Artists of the Week: Galactic

Wynton Marsalis called it “gumbo.” Galactic renamed it “ya-ka-may.”

Ya ka may is a New Orleans street food–a multi-ethnic noodle soup served out of corner stores throughout all the distinctive wards of the city. I don’t think Galactic could have come up with a better title for their eighth album.

Ya-Ka-May, which was released February 9th on Anti-Records, is a true homage to everything New Orleans. Galactic collaborates with thirteen different recording artists or groups, ranging from Allen Toussaint to Sissy Nobby, and the result is international soup for the brain, the body, the heart, and of course the soul.

Opening with a vocal track laid overtop a marching band snare, funk bass-line, and eventually some blues harp, we are welcomed to the collective as “friends of science”, and we are invited to let the musicians transmit their talents into our brains sans consciousness. Before we have time to even resonate the message inspired upon us, Galactic blasts the carnival’esque horns of the Rebirth Brass Band reminding us: ‘Yo! Forget the science and just shake yo’ ass!’

“Boe Money” is a swing club instrumental with a simple beat and melody to keep us in check perhaps suggesting not to take anything too seriously throughout the album. But before we completely lose ourselves in the feelgood swing of the Rebirth Brass Band, Big Freedia comes calling in “No more dreams. No more dreams. It’s reality,” as the opening lines to “Double It.” The album takes on a more modern beat and is reaching for that pop-synth feel that likes to creep its way on to campus club dance floors all across the Midwest. A track I personally could have done without and felt was the one outcast to the overall theme of the album.

“Heart of Steel” featuring Irma Thomas is iTunes most popular song from the album, and with good cause. At points in the song, Thomas shows off her vocal talent going almost completely a cappella, only accompanied by the odd base note by Robert Mercurio and djembe tapping of Stanton Moore.

Allen Toussaint’s piano roll in “Bacchus” is simple and compliments the nostalgia of the funk and lyrics. It’s as if Galactic were intentionally playing with polarities as a motif through the track listing. They make sure to never repeat genre, style, or influence back to back through the entire album, and the layout keeps the listener both conscious and subconscious at the same time–tasting the flavors of the individual ingredients, but at the same time not aware of the overall effect.

Track seven is simple but aggressive–a definite modern-day hip-hop feel. And then we are taken back to the brass with Trombone Shorty and Corey Henry soloing us and dueling us through complex changes mingled over simple rhythm combinations. “Cineramascope” is my favorite track on the album no doubt.

Both “Dark Water” and “Liquor Pang” bring blues into the stew. Although very different in completed sound, their roots are the same, screaming of the deep blues influence noticed in Jeff Raines’ guitar solos in DW and lyrics in LP.

As if to bring the album full circle, the funk and gospel sound heard in “You Don’t Know” and “Speaks His Mind” wrap up the album covering all anyone would want or need to find in a collaborate from New Orleans.

Ya-ka-may is as eclectic in musical genre and international influence as it is in time. Some tracks make you feel 2010 St. Louis while others make you feel 1975 Detroit. And that is what makes New Orleans, and Galactic timeless, regionless, categoryless; but certainly not tasteless. Throw all these influences into one boiling pot and you get Gumbo. Or you get ya-ka-may.

BreakThru Radio will be spinning tracks from Ya-Ka-May all week long in honor of our Artist of The week, Galactic. Listen up, this album is sure to be in heavy rotation on the site for quite a while to come!

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– Kory French


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