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Map of Africa - Map of Africa

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Artist: Map of Africa

Album: Map of Africa

Label: Whatever We Want

Review date: May. 29, 2007

Baby, if you’re feelin’ good
Baby, if you feelin’ nice
You know your man is workin’ hard
He’s worth a deuce

- Kiss - “Deuce”

Harvey Bassett and Thomas Bullock are Map of Africa, and you’re either out there on their party boat chasing an eternal sunset, or you’re on the dock, wondering what’s up. This is the first recent pop-rock record to be made by individuals known professionally as club DJs, and world-class ones at that – Bassett you know as DJ Harvey, Bullock as one half of Rub 'n' Tug – which reverses the trend of a rock musician converting to dance music, and effectively disarms the latent tendencies of such individuals to stick to only left-field examples as influence. Post-punk doesn’t belong here, and Krautrock and Brian Eno are given the back seat; outsized musical personalities like Pablo Cruise, Nash Kato and Billy Gibbons are the stars of this party, as well as Mark Knopfler, Jan Hammer, and So-era Peter Gabriel. Phrased with the earnest parody of Ween, Map of Africa has the mid-'80s, iguana-wearing-sunglasses vibe down cold enough to feather their hair. These two play the smuggler’s blues.

Smooth beyond the point where most listeners with a working bullshit sensor will have passed judgment by now, Map of Africa’s music struts around like an R. Crumb character, floating across XXL synth beds and ripping, studio-perfect solos. Even in its more abstract moments, such as the nature-themed “Ely Cathedral” and its twangy coda “Western Love,” the sense of artist indulgence looms heavy above. The duo sounds most comfortable when they’re slugging out loose, moody riffs in motifs funky and dramatic, the kind that you hear at the start of the party, up until it peaks.

Whatever We Want Records has steadily released singles from this album, along with a series of DJ edits, Bullock’s jumpy singles as Bobbie Marie, and the Godsy EPs, and it's forced the hand of demand, selling most of their limited pressings overseas and in boutiques not known for selling records. Seems fair, though, as a track like their cover of the Equals’ “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is easily worth both the price and the search, replacing the original’s soul hustle with a compressed, FM-ready punch that has leveled many a dancefloor. The album’s sequence plays out like a DJ set, its tracks sounding appropriate and dualistic in their ordering. Side one is the pleaser, and side two crams in the more serious offerings.

Having some doubts about this album, I went to see Harvey spin at his Love residency here in NYC, to see if I could unpack this easygoing record any further. Most of the album would have fit within the first hour or two of his set, which would have sounded at home on the Weather Channel. After that, sequences of tracks started hitting the crowd in waves of intensity that grew stronger with each movement. His skillfulness matched his eclecticism throughout the night, leaving very few spectators to play the wall for the duration of the night. People showed up to dance, and he made that happen – hard. The walls blew out in plumes of smoke, lights set the sky on fire, bass shifted our innards around, and we were all in our own worlds.

I grasp this record’s message much more clearly now. It’s the music that they, as DJs, wanted to hear, a tribute to their medium of choice and abilities to select and control the sounds of others. That it is thoroughly of its own time against nearly all current musical trends doesn’t deny its right to be self-reflective and deep; closer “Here Come the Heads” confirms that. That you’ll feel anything this big listening to music that doesn’t wear socks with its shoes tells us that maybe things aren’t rushing towards some pan-stylistic singularity after all. This is a real thing designed to make us feel good, welcome, safe. It doesn’t project its insecurities on us; it hasn’t got any. It’s hard work to create anything with this much heart. Thomas and Harvey: worth a deuce.

By Doug Mosurock

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