Black Strobe ‘Godforsaken Roads’ (Blackstrobe)

Brylcreem and analogue synths. And you don’t get to hear those words in the same sentence very often

Let’s pretend we don’t know that Parisian Arnaud Rebotini was in a death metal band once upon a time. Not that knowing muddies the waters any (we’ll get to that particular pun shortly). Nope. Let’s just concentrate on what he’s doing now. Boy, are you in for a treat.

By day, Rebotini makes sparky electronic instrumental cuts under his own name, music that harks back to the golden age – dabs of the Cabs, splashes of Kraftwerk, some early Human League thrum, a bit of Depeche Mode – all lashed together with taut contemporary techno twists. Did someone mention electroclash? By night, however, things get darker. Somewhat.

A craggy bear of man – black suit, crisp white shirt, perfect greased-back quiff – he looks as edgy as ‘Godforsaken Roads’ sounds. The sophomore Black Strobe long-player takes his love of electronic music and steams up its windows with a heady brew of, well, blues and country and western.

To pull that notion into some sort of understandable shape, Black Strobe’s 2007 debut album, ‘Burn Your Own Church’, was liberally pillaged for film soundtracks. ‘Blood Shot Eyes’ was used in the trailer of Scorcese’s ‘Wolf Of Wall Street, while their cover of Bo Diddley’s ‘I’m A Man’ featured in Guy Ritchie’s ‘RocknRolla’ and in the trailer for Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’.

And while ‘I’m A Man’ in particular (the original of which was influenced by ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ by Muddy Waters of the earlier poor joke) is the far side of the Black Strobe spectrum, all monster ZZ Top riffing and not a synth in sight, it does help get your head in the right place for this new record. Sort of. Think steaming nights in the Deep South, a devil at the crossroads, bayous and swamps, plus krautrock, synthpop and techno. Oh yes. 

An idea is one thing, hearing it in motion is a proper treat. ‘Blues Fight’ has a ticka-ticka-ticka drum machine rattling away underneath some proper squelching, snarling riffola and a bassline so grumbling it makes Peter Hook look tame. And then, just for good measure, it goes all Rick Wakeman on too much Red Bull. ‘For Those Who Came To Earth Thru The Devil’s Asshole’, a boiler room racket layered knee-deep and sinking before you know it, is so nuts you could feed it monkeys. ‘Dumped Boogie’ is Mississippi Delta Depeche Mode (and much more interesting than ‘Delta Machine’), ‘From The Gutter’ is pots and pans Dead Or Alive, ‘Promised Moon’ is Wire meets Bolan.

All things considered, you’d wager Rebotini must have agonised over taking on Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ but, my word, does he do the great man justice – warm, bright Kraftwerkian scales and all. Throughout, Rebotini’s growling vocal comes on like a cheery Nick Cave and the subject matter – “My Lord”, “Help me”, “Mama told me”, “Brothers and sisters”, “I was good son” – occupies a similar ballpark.

Oh, and if ‘House Of Good Lovin’’ isn’t snapped up for a film soundtrack, we’ll eat this review. The tip-toeing lick is pure John Lee Hooker catapulted into some sort of analogue synth heaven. Good God, is it bonkers.

How on earth this works is anyone’s guess. But it does. And if Rebotini is prepared to go this far out, really, who are we to argue. In this day and age, it’s such a joy to find not only a total maverick, but a true original. You have to get a load of this record. Best thing I’ve heard so far this year. No question.

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