Galactic: “Carnivale Electricos”

I love everything about this. I love that Galactic– one of the best bands in New Orleans, and really one of the best bands in America– is flying their hometown colors higher than ever. I love that they’re once again making music that draws on the crossed paths of musical and cultural history, this time between the Big Easy and Brazil, and that they’ve once again made a record awash in history but rendered in gloriously modern, vibrant colors. And I love that their album-length celebration of the music of Carnivale and Mardis Gras is being released by the ANTI- label on– when else?– the day of Mardi Gras.

This is the first Galactic studio album since Ya Ka May, an album that fused the past and present of New Orleans music, brass bands and living legends like Allen Toussaint sitting in with bounce artists and “sissy” rappers. Carnivale is similarly inclusive. This is decades worth of musical legacy condensed into a modern package, and it crackles with the kind of energy that you just can’t avoid when you bring so much great music into such close quarters. Here, Brazilian music is huge– check “Voyage Ton Flag,” which refracts zydeco through the postmodern prism of hip-hop. So is parade music; one of the many entries on Galactic’s guest list is a New Orleans high school marching band. And yes, bounce and rap are also present in high doses, maybe more than ever before. “Hey Na Na” grafts battle raps and party-starting beats over metallic electric guitar, while “Move Fast” has charismatic (and very funny) MC-ing from Mystikal and Mannie Fresh over soulful organ and horns. (By the way, another thing I love about this album is how many of the guest artists I recognize simply by virtue of watching Treme.)

It adds up to an album that lives up to its name– this is, indeed, an electrifying carnival of an album, a parade of sounds and songs and celebration that never dips in energy or imagination, where the brassy on-the-corner funk of “Out on the Street (featuring a couple of Neville Brothers) fits seamlessly along the horns-ablaze, marching-band momentum of “Karate.” As with any Galactic album, it seems at first like it’s all about the energy– and this one bounces like nobody’s business– but this is something very different from a live concert experience.

Indeed, Galactic albums are as much about sound as performance. That’s what makes all of these wild sounds fit so seamlessly together; they’re all put through the same filter of Galactic’s thoroughly present-day sound, where the guitars are processed, the vocalists sound like they’re singing through bullhorns, and there’s never an absence of crisp, jangling percussion. It’s a feast and a celebration for the ears– dancing music that’s sonically rich and layered and full of bright, intoxicating colors.

I suspect that it’s Galactic’s most ambitious record yet, and, song for song, it stacks up nicely against Ya Ka May. I love their music, more than anything, for how it captures the strut and swagger of New Orleans’ entire history without sounding like it belongs to any era but the present, and Carnivale Electricos  is the most brilliantly-staged expression of that ethos yet. (Plus, immediately the go-to soundtrack for every party I will host from now on, Mardis Gras or otherwise.)


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