For our second Uncharted Territory review we are going to try something a little different – an Uncharted Territory Revisited. In January, we reviewed Rock Hood, the debut album from flamboyant Brooklyn six piece Shinobi Ninja. The response was great with many of you commenting on the band's energetic style and joie de vivre. In March this year, the band released their fourth studio album Bless Up and I thought it only apt to chart the evolution of their sound in the six years that have passed since their first release.
The first thing that jumped out at me about Bless Up is that Shinobi Ninja's approach has certainly undergone a refinement. The album is streamlined down to 11 tracks as opposed to Rock Hood's 17 and it feels better for it. The unique aspect of their music was always their ability to combine different musical styles in a seamless fashion and this has only improved with time. Opening track Subcon is an ethereally textured song that flits from frenetic flow to easy expression over a screeching electronic backdrop that reminded me of Live's Deep Enough. Programmable Animal explores the band's pop side with a richly basslined track jam-packed with catchy hooks and floaty melodies. The album ends on the dusky Dancing In The Crowd, a track of unexpected tenderness that encapsulates the camaraderie and shared cognition of the last night of a festival.
As with Rock Hood, the interaction and chemistry between lead singers Doobie and Baby G is intoxicating. Admittedly, it can sometimes feel like eating an entire bag of sugar and then being asked to appreciate the beauty of a sunset but that is the lure for me. Hearing two artists with such a variance in styles completely at ease with each other is like watching one of those YouTube videos where an antelope befriends a lion. It is another thing that the band have clearly worked on – the importance of melodic moments. While once it was a barely-pausing thrill ride from start to finish, Shinobi Ninja now allow momentary hesitations which only serve to increase the impact of their vibrancy when it does re-emerge. It is also here that Baby G has her chance to shine – her voice on the brass-infused 2 Years 10 Months has a gorgeous rasp that blew me away.
If Rock Hood was the raw passion of teenage years, Bless Up most definitely represents the maturity and focus of adulthood in an album that took everything I thought I knew about Shinobi Ninja, crumpled it into a ball and presented me with a fresh set of expectations. Not being desperately au fait with contemporary vernacular (for a long time, I thought being 'on fleek' was something that might require a cream to remedy), I had to look up the term 'Bless Up'. According to various internet sources (not always a ringing indictment), the term means to give thanks, particularly to the deity or spiritual force of your choice, for something that has gone well in your life. This sums up, for me, the most attractive quality about Shinobi Ninja – they are a band committed to enjoying themselves and drawing every ounce of exuberance from their craft. If 'blessing up' leads to spirits this irrepressible, perhaps it's something we should all be doing more often.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Month
“Brooklyn kids//Brooklyn days//Brooklyn haze//Brooklyn craze”
Brooklyn kids mature
Baby G comes to the fore
Lots to Bless Up for
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