It’s the kind of fantasy game you play in the pub: what would Thin Lizzy sound like if Phil Lynott were still alive? How would Metallica fair if they replaced Lars Ulrich? What if Black Sabbath made an Afrobeat album?
The debut album from LA-based quintet Here Lies Man provides a possible answer to that third question. It’s a bewildering mix of fuzzed-up guitar riffs, shuffling Afrobeat rhythms, squawking keyboards and vocals that sound like they’re beamed in from somewhere not of this earth. And it’s quite unlike anything else you’ll hear this year.
“The repetitive guitar figures that happen in Afrobeat music are very close to heavy rock guitar riffs,” guitarist and singer Marcos Garcia explains. “This music is based on the clave. It’s the musical algorithm that the rhythms revolve around. It’s what gives it integrity and provides the basis for the musical conversation that’s happening. I knew I wanted it to be psychedelic and heavy, and I wanted to be expanding on a musical tradition rather than pretending to be creating something new.”
Unlike most modern rock albums, where everything is compressed to within an inch of its existence and each instrument is produced to sound loud and proud and nothing at all like the real thing, the production on Here Lies Man is an altogether more hazy affair, with a deliberately murky mix adding to the other-worldly strangeness of the album.
“For me the music has a cinematic quality,” says Garcia. “Everything I write has a visual narrative attached to it. Every piece is a scene from an abstract film in my mind, and the main character is in an epic battle with his or her self. Sometimes the light prevails, and other times the shadows subsume it.”
It beats singing about cars and girls. For those who know African music, Here Lies Man actually sound less like Afrobeat giant Fela Kuti and more like the great lost Zambian rockers Witch, with a dose of William Onyeabor’s synthesiser craziness tossed into the mix. But there’s no doubting Kuti’s importance.
“Fela has been the biggest musical influence of my professional career,” says Garcia. “His innovations opened up so may avenues for exploration, all the while being grounded in tradition. The political commentary in his songs made him a target of the corrupt military governments in Nigeria and yet, he persisted with the message that ‘music is the weapon of the future.’ That’s a powerful posture to hold in the face of abuse and corruption; he was able to mobilize tens of thousands to resist through the music.”
Garcia’s day job is with New York-based Afrobeat band Antibalas, while joining him in Here Lies Man are drummer Geoff Mann (son of jazz great Herbie), bassist JP Maramba, Tyler Cash on keyboards and percussionist Rich Panta. And while the album only came out this year, it’s been a long time coming.
“I conceived of the project in 2005 when I was in the studio with Antibalas recording the album, Security,” says Garcia. “About six years ago, I started recording demos with musicians in New York but, it wasn’t until I relocated to LA in 2015 that the project finally came together.
“When I played through some of these ideas with Geoff Mann on drums it finally felt the way I had intended it feel and sound. Within the first two months of living here we had recorded the album.”
Here Lies Man can be ordered from Riding Easy now. The band hope to tour the UK in early 2018.