Drone, Drugs, and Harmony, the self-released debut by Kanas City, Missouri’s I Love You is unlikely to inspire the (unwarranted) hand-wringing, post-colonial guilt in which critics indulged over Vampire Weekend this last year, but both groups are equally indebted to past masters of African pop.
I Love You (a.k.a. Yah Tibyah La Blu, apparently a phonetic rewriting of the sentiment expressed by their more prosaic name in Russian), like many rock and postpunk bands since the late ‘70s, find inspiration in the cavernous depths of dub, but distinguish themselves by peppering liberally with the polyrhythms of classic Afrobeat, a la Fela Kuti.
If Paul Simon appears to represent the path from African music to Vampire Weekend, I Love You appear to have traveled by way of Peter Gabriel, with droning, proggy numbers like “Pigs on Horses” recalling the darker moments of Peter Gabriel . But what drummer Jeffrey Schlette and singer/guitarist Justin Randel do with Afrobeat mirrors what postpunk bands like Joy Division did with dub and glam: find the negative spaces and where the syncopation lands, while eschewing any hint of its tropical warmth.
The bass booms and echoes, while the drums skitter about the space like ravenous beetles. Guitar is appropriately art-damaged, touching on the rhythmic base and leave burns. It’s all remarkably danceable, and careens with the frenetic energy of early Neu!.
With more attentive production, a few more songs, and more mature songwriting, Drone, Drugs, and Harmony might have been I Love You‘s breakthrough album. It’s no insult to say they’re not quite there yet. For now, it’s exciting enough to imagine it possible. Drone, Drugs, and Harmony signals a turn for the conceptually daring in both dance-punk and art-rock; I’ve never had so much fun listening to a band’s reach exceeding its grasp.
I Love You: www.yahtibyahlablu.com