When Cornershop’s third album came out last year, I was jittery with excitement. It had been a long wait — five years! — since the butter-smooth 1997 masterpiece When I Was Born for the 7th Time first touched down on my eardrums, and I was sure the ‘Shop’s new record wouldn’t disappoint.
Which it of course did. I hated Handcream for a Generation for several months after purchasing it. And it wasn’t like I hadn’t given it a chance — I must have listened to the fucker once a day, every day, for two solid weeks, and I still wasn’t feeling it. I believed (foolishly, wrongly) that there were no songs on the album, that it was just a solid hour of depressed, fragmented sonic mess.
Wrong on that count, too. Revisiting the album a bit later — a little older, a little wiser, having read both Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” and Young’s “Postcolonialism” in the interim — I began to flesh out the context behind songs like “Wogs Will Walk.” Thanks to the rigors of academia and book larnin,’ I now regard Handcream as a classic in its own right.
Anyway, my Big Point: the same recently-acquired context that made me appreciate Handcream is responsible for my hating this Karminsky Experience album, The Power of Suggestion. Instrumental music usually makes me either want to go to sleep or bounce around, and that’s it. But this is the first instance I can think where it offended me on an ideological level.
See, the album starts out decent enough: opening track “Departures” is chill and cool and all that, and “Assignment Istanbul” is brilliant: all sinister and sleek, like something you’d hear in a haunted cocktail lounge.
But around track four, “Belly Disco,” things take a turn for the worse. In a misguided attempt at multiculturalism (or something), KEInc. lazily incorporates droning sitars, goofy cooing “exotic” female vocals, and Eastern percussion, cynically transforming the album from an alright down-tempo chill-out session into a calculated, artificial trans-cultural pastiche, getting by with a little help from their erstwhile colonial subjects. Bleh.
I’m sure the Karminsky boys would argue they are celebrating diversity by incorporating samples of Hindu instruments into their work. I say such cross-cultural jack-jobs reek of the worst kind of fetishism — the kind that (get your rose-colored glasses on!) concentrates only on the “cool” and “exotic” aspects of a particular culture. It’s exploitative — what else would you call songs with titles like “The Hip Sheik” and “The Wayward Camel”? What else would you call it when the music of another culture is thoughtlessly appropriated merely because it’s from another culture, a different culture, an “exotic” culture? Musically, this album is occasionally worthwhile (take the “I Am the Walrus” string section on the last track), but sometimes cool music isn’t enough.