There are few print publications whose taste can be trusted quite as blindly as Wax Poetics. The Brooklyn-based bimonthly magazine, founded in 2001, has craftily cornered and dominated the cratedigger niche by relentlessly chasing down long-forgotten 45s and artists who otherwise would have gotten lost to the dustbins of time. The way editors Andre Torres and Brian DiGenti have built bridges back and forth from current hip hop producers to past jazz masters to Latin funk queens to lost soul superstars is as educational as it is entertaining.
In October, they expanded the operation by putting a name to their newly inaugurated record label. Chico Mann is Marcos Garcia, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra’s guitarist. The Jersey City-based multi-instrumentalist is the son of a Latin record label owner from Hell’s Kitchen and always had the influences of his Cuban background around him, but it was Afrobeat rhythms that got him touring the world. Garcia first started marrying these two sides by dallying solo with antique synthesizers in the winter of 2004. His first collection of beats became 2007’s Manifest Tone, Vol. 1. The recording quality was poor, but the sound was easily identifiable: Plucked guitars, simple call-and-response vocals, chants and a strong influence of 1970s Afrobeat. Soul and funk rubbed shoulders with classic 1980s breakbeat and electro.
With Analog Drift, Garcia takes it one step further. Though a lot of these songs have been around since early 2009 (and this album was originally up on the Chico Mann Bandcamp page, where most can still be found on the two ensuing volumes of the Manifest Tone series), the album pays homage to its label by ignoring the idea of newness. Garcia plays with time in a splendid amalgam of Afrobeat, early ‘80s electro and hip hop, and Latin freestyle influences reminiscent of everything from Egyptian Lover and Herbie Hancock to Newcleus and Stevie B.
Unlike a lot of Afrobeat and early ‘80s electro or hip hop, however, Garcia’s sense of brevity is apparent; none of the dozen songs overstays its welcome. The real joy beyond that is twofold: Chico Mann’s music is spacey and comfortably mid-tempo, and it’s hard not to enjoy an affable song with stuttering handclap beats and fuzzy, barely tuned synthesizers like those on “All That is Rising.” Picking out the influences is a never-ending rabbit hole filled with castaways and cutouts like Sa-Fire, Trinere and La India. The high-pitched synths on “Go to That Place” sound like a direct pull from Exposé’s “Let Me Be the One.” “Anima” sounds like TKA at double the speed. It’s as fun as you want to make it.
A lot of these songs start out like they might follow a suspect chiptune path, but “Hay Que Correr” is just one example where fears of bad taste in the opening seconds are assuaged by an unfussy guitar lick and the other joy of this album: Garcia’s voice. His voice never actually dominates the mix, but because his vocal hooks are so catchy, it’s impossible not to hum them even as the echo sometimes makes it difficult to discern what exactly he’s saying. Switching effortlessly between English and Spanish, Garcia adds another element to an album already brimming with cultural crosspollination.
The only real misstep is a Talking Heads cover of “Once in a Lifetime,” redone in a style uniform with the rest. I find it unnecessary, like some sort of olive branch to philistines, but anyone who knows where to find this will already be open to the possibilities this album presents. Lagos, The Bronx, Miami, all points between: This feels exactly like something you’d expect with the Wax Poetics name behind it.