Extra Golden Ok-Oyot System

[Thrill Jockey; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: melodic rock, African/American rock fusion
Others: Graceland… but this is better

A mere blip on the indie rock radar, Golden are among the last bands you might expect to put out a dynamic, don't-skip-a-track, don't-take-it-out-of-my-discman /car stereo/ iPod-for-a-week, "I know you're bored with music but check this out anyway, man" kind of record. But that's exactly what Ok-Oyot System is. Neither wildly experimental nor richly emotive, this record is a beautiful distillation of rock the way Joe Carducci likes it: live, loose, untamable, uncanny. As familiar as the chords and rhythms sound, they're distinctly exciting; you can almost feel the joy of the moment of creation.

Perhaps my enthusiasm is just a projection, as the album's backstory foregrounds fusion, exchange, and the creative process. While working on his doctoral thesis on benga, a Kenyan pop style, Golden's Ian Eagleson met Oteino Jagwasi, the guitarist in a Kenyan rock band called Orchestra Extra Solar Africa. Golden/Weird War member Alex Minoff and Orchestra drummer Onyango Wuod Omari joined Eagleson and Jagwasi in the studio, and these songs are the results. Extra Golden is a rejuvenated Golden — one with more life than the band's original incarnation, even.

The most surprising aspect of this album is that it doesn't follow a predictable narrative of cross-country generic fusion. This isn't a direct political statement; politics may be embedded in the situation, but the lyrics don't give them voice. Nor is this the story of a rock band traveling to Africa to find rhythm. The drumming is more lively and engaging than that on Golden's other efforts, but it's not particularly 'exotic,' just the result of a more skilled player in the mix. If anything, this is a guitar record. Eagleson and Minoff's six-strings trace one another delicately, making some downright intoxicating and remarkably opaque backings to Jagwasi's vocal melodies. Even on a bar-rockin' cut like "It's Not Easy," it feels as though the intertwining guitar notes could continue indefinitely and never fall stale.

All in all, these tunes aren't far off from standard indie rock fare. The difference between this and, say, the new Aloha albums is that the bandmembers sound like they're gelling and creating, not simply recording. And this is an alluring prospect, even when the songs are this simple and comfortable.

1. Ilando Gima Onge
2. It's Not Easy
3. Ok-Oyot System
4. Osama Ranch
5. Tussin and Fightin'
6. Nyajondere