As calling cards go, Bending the Dark states this genre-fusing act’s case eloquently.
John Aizlewood 2012
For all that pop music is becoming increasingly niche (or increasingly tribal, depending on your point of view), there are still those trying to shoehorn various unlikely genres together, not least The Imagined Village collective, brainchild of Simon Emmerson, leader of Afro Celt Sound System.
For almost a decade now, they have attempted to fuse traditional finger-in-your-ear folk with all sorts of non-trad, but mostly "world", genres. Not entirely surprisingly, the hacksaw approach to a problem that requires fine-tuning has meant the results were mixed at best.
This third album has notably less input from folk titan Martin Carthy (there is more from his singing, fiddling daughter Eliza), but it's a huge, focused, and daring leap forwards. Although Washing Song is too short of ideas on an album otherwise overflowing with them, the rest of the more overtly folk material, especially Wintersinging, has a new-found spring in its step and the oddly sensual Sick Old Man even gets away with banging on about “raggle taggle gypsies”, albeit from a sympathetic 21st-century perspective.
Yet, when The Imagined Village venture from the folk cocoon, they can stumble. Get Kalsi, a kind of Bhangra take on the Get Carter theme and a tribute to their percussionist Johnny Kalsi, falls between too many stools. But The Guvna hurls warped loops, space-age dub, twangy sitar and keyboards into the mix and somehow emerges as a coherent force of nature.
The real standout though, is the near-instrumental title-track, all 12 minutes of it. It serves as a guided tour of The Imagined Village, beginning with chanted Asian vocals, hurtling through two-way drum battles, a gloriously uplifting central melody and myriad delicious tangents. Musical boundaries are not so much blurred as scrubbed out, and it's exactly what they've been trying to say for their whole existence.
For all the many delights of Bending the Dark, it's hard to see where The Imagined Village can go from here. They're not in the market for hits as such and, as Emmerson's Afro Celt Sound System discovered, a substantial live following may not translate into substantial record sales. Still, as calling cards go, Bending the Dark states their case most eloquently.