This is the CD I've played most often over the past month or so. The title comes from a T.S. Elliot poem via Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, and I can't remember an album being better summed up by its title than this. From the claustrophobic, lo-fi production to the minor-key melodies, Nneka comes on like a Nigerian Tricky, confiding her deepest fears and anxieties in regard to both personal relationships and her continents woes and troubles. There's nothing easygoing going on here.
And although she sites Fela Kuti (along with Chinua Achebe) as influences there is surprisingly little influence of Afrobeat here. Instead, I can hear everything from 1970's politicised Americal soul and funk, to drum and bass, to electronica, to the art-house experiments of Bjork but with added angst ('Gypsy' and 'Halfcast') to Jamaican reggae and ragga.
But when she does reggae, such as on 'Something to Say' it's completely on her own terms. This is post industrial reggae in which the offbeat guitar chops seem to have been created from sampling some huge piece of factory equipment being dragged across a metal floor. And how many reggae tracks make such effective use of a ride cymbal?
Each track here is like a new experiment; a new Frankenstein hybrid that Nneka and her producer, DJ Farhot, have felt compelled to stitch together out of old musics and new sounds. There is no need to settle on a style and then go with it, for this woman. Her restlessness is part of the essential spirit of her edgy music.
The track 'Heartbeat' is an most unbearably intense song which seems to move from the personal to the political, suggesting Nneka is as emotionally engaged in both arenas. It brings to mind, as a few tracks here do, the cinematic sweep of Shara Nelson-era Massive Attack. Even the token song dedicated to Africa isn't totally trashed by the inevitably sentimental 'uplifting' chorus. It's a damn catchy chorus and the rest of the song sounds like Sally Nyolo at her best, so I forgive her.
But the bottom line is this is the kind of music l might of hoped they'd be making in the future, when I looked forward from some adolecent year to the notion of what music might be like in 2009: challenging, sonically perverse, unpredictable, compelling, and perhaps a little difficult to get one's head around at first. But I keep being drawn back, again and again, certain that this album can't be as good as I think it is, and becoming more convinced that perhaps it is.
16 tracks; 16 different worlds, yet somehow making a cohesive whole.