Formed in 2008 after a chance meeting between Mauritian vocalist/lead guitarist Kushul Gaya and Japanese keyboardist Yoshino Shigihara who had both recently expatriated to Bristol, the band's music is an unpredictable, propulsive polyrhythmic stew of various international genres - tropicalia, afrobeat, psychedelia, funk, Ethiopian Jazz - not that dissimilar from the music of much older American acts like The Dave Matthews Band or Poi Dog Pondering, but harder hitting.
And like those bands, Zun Zun Egui is an exceptionally talented collection of musicians (Gaya's guitar fills, in particular, are impressive), but a collection whose music is constantly toeing that very fine jam-band line between pyrotechnic transcendence and outright cheese.
For the first half of Shackle's Gift, transcendence clearly wins out.
Opener Rigid Man kicks things off with a rollicking, afro-beat-driven start, then after the decent African Tree, we hit the album's two best tracks, the slow, punishing, almost industrial-flavored Ruby, which really builds up a lot of internal tension, and the earnest I Want You To Know, which concludes with a weird, extended, spiky guitar outro that for my money is the best moment of the entire album.
But right after I Want You To Know comes the well-meaning but tedious Soul Scratch, a song that should have served as a nice change of pace after all the pyrotechnics before but instead just brings the whole affair down, and after that point, that undercurrent of Aaron Bruno AWOL Nation-type cheesiness that lies latent in all of Gaya's vocals rises to the surface, and aside from decent closer City Thunder, which gets to the heart of the band's sense of dislocation, the back half of the album never fully recovers.
Still for the first half of this record alone and the band's interesting, unpredictable sound, Shackle's Gift is well worth checking out.
And I'm seriously P. O.'d at Coachella for never booking these guys before they broke up - this is a style of music that screams to be heard live.
Status: Mild Recommend
Cherry Pickers Best Bets: Rigid Man, Ruby, I Want You To Know, City Thunder
1. Rigid Man - 8
2. African Tree - 7
3. Ruby - 8
4. I Want You To Know - 8
5. Soul Scratch - 5
6. Tickle The Line - 6
7. The Sweetest Part Of Life - 6
8. Late Bloomer - 6
9. City Thunder - 7
Intangibles - Average To Slightly Low
Here are videos for the tracks Ruby and African Tree.