Due to his incredibly prolific body of work with his record label, GroundUp Music, Michael League has his fingers in a lot of pies; the latest of which is a new band, started by League, called Bokanté. The word means ‘exchange’ in Creole, the language of the band’s vocalist Malika Tirolien, and the music is meant to represent this idea of a cultural exchange between the melting pot of musicians involved. For the most part, Strange Circles delivers on the aims that the band set out to achieve, with a vibrant album that makes clear the individual influences from each band member, but the experience does, at times, feel somewhat sterilised by League’s somewhat predictable arrangements.
Perhaps the most thrilling element of Strange Circles is the simplicity of the compositions. It’s really satisfying to listen to each of the tracks and be able to pick out all of the individual threads that come together to make the songs so animated and aesthetically impressive. The album’s second track, “Nou Tout Sé Yonn”, has a moment towards the end where the bad demonstrates how they construct each song, by building up each section of the band layer by layer, until you have an incredibly texturally diverse cacophony, built from a series of very simple ideas.
Unfortunately, whilst this is the album’s biggest strength, it also paves the way for its biggest flaw. Once you figure out how the pieces have been constructed, the arrangements across the album become predictable to the point where they start to feel generic. The pattern of Snarky Puppy-esque bass lines and baritone guitar riffs built on top of percussion lines with a satisfying mix of timbres, followed by Tirolien’s gorgeous, multi-tracked vocals, which are subtly complimented by Roosevelt Collier’s lap steel playing, gets a little tired after a while.
Make no mistake, this is still an enjoyable album. The melodic writing and performances on Strange Circles are excellent, and there’s no denying that the band has heaps of chemistry, but unfortunately, some of the arrangements on the record feel somewhat worn and a little sterile. I think the lesson that the band needs to learn before they come out with their next project, is that having a distinct formula doesn’t necessarily translate into having a consistently engaging personality.
Find out more about the band and purchase their album here