Africa HiTech, 93 Million Miles

[Warp Records]

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93 Million Miles has one of the most unique arcs of any album in recent memory, a progression of sound that might best be described as backwards time travel, something the title track alludes to. As an illustration, recall the opening sound collage of Contact, where the oldest transmissions from Earth could be heard furthest from their origin because those sounds had just arrived at that far point. Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek have taken this idea and applied it to the belief that most rhythm-based music today has it’s origin in Africa. As they move further and further along the 93 million miles to the sun, or the 11 tracks that chart the arc of this album, they move further and further back to that musical origin.

The title track has more than a little in common with the futuristic feel of Daft Punk’s recent Tron Legacy soundtrack, a constantly moving synth and rhythm workout that lays out the journey ahead in robotic narration. It offers various facts about the length of time and distance it takes light to travel from the sun to the earth, which puts the notion of time into the concept of music making. Rolling back slightly to a just-over-the-horizon alien take on grime dancehall with the dramatic cello stabs and garbled vocals of “Do U Wanna Fight,” one could easily see this track as an extension of the work of Kode9 & The Spaceape on Black Sun. The elastic synthesis and harmonic melody feel so out there, it’s almost too strange, too unfamiliar; this is where 93 Million Miles starts to question what this music is suppose to be. There are hints of existing styles and sounds but many tracks are wholly unique. “Out In The Streets” certainly seems juke-inspired, but the crisply sampled Ini Kamoze chorus sets it slightly apart from the rough techniques of that genre, much like Addison Groove’s own take. What results is a smooth and sizable anthem that makes use of a very current drum pattern and a legendary vocal.

The trilogy of “Future Moves,” “Glangslap,” and “Our Luv” take their cues from the prevalent modern funk movement with “Future Moves” being the most mechanical and strange, featuring it’s insect-like melodic skitters and robotic bass. “Glangslap” is what London might sound like next year, all semblance of organic noise removed, leaving a purely synthetic take on techno funk behind. This leaves “Our Luv,” a song that conjures images of sad machines remarking wistfully on the greatness of their love from years past. The computer voice’s first words are “everlasting,” a thought that would be quite important to something with no concept of death. While the music is bright and constant, the voice has a slightly depressing quality to it. This voice tends to define the music for me and gives the bass-heavy techno stomper a lot of emotional resonance. When it starts to repeat in a descending octave, it sounds like a machine dying, the point at which love may be the most important thought to an organic being, but how does that apply to a machine? A very modern concept.

“Spirit” is the point at which the album very clearly starts looking backward from our point in time. A very retro, African-inspired rhythm is built with synthetic tools and affected very slightly to shift it into a hazy realm before the smooth “Light The Way” follows it with a Caribbean-flavored movement and vocal. “Foot Step” takes a detour into electronic French jazz sounds, almost as a way to bridge new wave, electro, and jazz within the confines of their African lineage. Nowhere is the African influence heard more than on “Cyclic Sun,” which is pure ethio-jazz, evoking rhythms and moods similar to Mulatu Astatke and Hailu Mergia. The wood block drums and gently plucking guitars move in tandem to pianos and woodwinds, and for a moment you can forget completely that 93 Million Miles began with frenetically arpeggiated synths and fast-moving electronic drums. This is where the time travel effects of the album feels most apparent, hearing the line down the years from scientific exploration of the solar system to this sun-worshiping drum circle.

The closing “Don’t Fight It” song is also very much in line with African-inflected jazz, but with a slight Jamaican feel, similar to Rhythm & Sound. Most interestingly, though, is the album-supporting chorus of “time will tell,” reminding us that music is cyclical and each style and genre carries over into the next down through the years. Pritchard and Spacek have crafted a strangely descending album that offers impeccable production techniques and a subtle lesson in history. At times pulse-pounding and other times calming, 93 Million Miles stands out as one of the most interesting albums of 2011 so far.

ChrisFizik  on May 26, 2011 at 7:32 PM

nice review/breakdown. It really is interesting stuff, quite the piece of work as a whole. I really wonder how it will hold up over time (funny you going on about time travel and old earth sounds etc). I’m on the fence, but I wonder if this might be one of ‘those albums’ that will define an era — and era yet to come too, because right now, this is so living in the future….some sort of post-dubstep/juke/bass/jazz/raregroove future..that is waking all the heads up right now. Timeless or not, it will defo have an impact in the next year or so of music, easily.

Harald  on May 31, 2011 at 3:59 PM

the vocal in “light the way” is sampled from sun ra quartet “when there is no sun”, to be found on the 1978 album “new steps”:

great album by africa hitech.


LWE Interviews Africa Hitech | Little White Earbuds  on November 24, 2011 at 2:07 PM

[…] a tempo, and then it’s open to anything, which is what makes it really exciting.When I reviewed the album for Little White Earbuds, I made a note that it almost seemed like you were traveling backwards in time over the course of […]

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