Extra Goldenís claim to modest fame is the groupís shared love of Kenyan benga. Ethnomusicologist and founder Ian Eaglesonís immersed himself in the style as the focus of his doctoral dissertation, and half of the Chicago groupís members come from Kenya, international stars in their own right. The unyielding authenticity created interesting musical problems across the bandís first two albums; some songs were rock, others were benga (not having a background in ethnomusicology, one can only assume they were getting it right). In the newfound center on Thank You Very Quickly, Eagleson and company have stealthly transitioned from indie ethno-experimental vanguards to genuine Afro-Rock champions, erasing 7,000 miles of distance and so many years of history. Not bad for a band with a litany of logistical hurdles that include death, raids by secret police, and visa problems that were ultimately solved by the Prez in his pre-Prez political career in Illinois. (How that didnít become a Fox-fueled meme "Obama smuggling immigrants from his secret Muslim Kenyan homeland," during the 2008 election escapes me.)
The first semblance of this late-stage alchemy surfaces during the opening cadences of each track. The band has developed a quasi-formula that often includes a stretched-out melodic counterpoint to each song that tours the verse, chorus and bridge as a consolidated preview of whatís to come over the next few minutes. This may very well be an exclusively benga queue, but the neat trick Extra Golden pulls off on these songs, time and time again, is the dueling guitar interplay during these mini-prologues, one in which Eaglesonís guitar slides lithely from note to note as if itís being played by a bottleneck. A few rounds of this intercontinental guitar jousting, most pronounced on the tracks "Gimakiny Akia" and "Security", might even recall Ė if for lack of other musical precedent Ė the Allman Brothers, a previous generationís pack of Caucasian guitar pioneers who embraced and dressed themselves in roots music as an act of love and respect. Thankfully, Extra Golden seems to evade most of the latterís extracurricular pitfalls (most notably marriage of a member to a mono-monikered half-Cherokee pop singer, but hey, thereís still time).
There is an odd moment or two in which Eagleson and companyís English lyrics (they often seamlessly go back and forth, as Eagleson trades off vocals with bandmate Bilongo) favor expository over musical compromise or poetic license, resulting in long strings of bookish run-on staccato that reminds one of, well, Human League or something, particularly in the newsy when-Kenya-imploded narrative of the title track. This band has worked so hard, however, that the fleeting wonkishness of Lit-major passages like this one should not only be allowed, but embraced as small eccentricity. Indulge them in return for their unique, funky, hard-assed groove, pervasive through every measure of their playing here.
Missing is the idiosyncratic soul breakdown, like "Itís Not Easy" from the bandís first album, but itís another small sacrifice in the face of bigger picture. Meticulous playing and rhythmic faithfulness commandeer the album as a trademark of what inevitably could be the U.S. entry into the Afro-Groove Olympics. Letís hope itís part of the 2016 games in Chicago.