Album review: Red Snapper – Hyena

by Thomas Blake

A minute into Card Trick, the opening song on Hyena, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled across a lost Miles Davis recording from the 1970s, or one of Herbie Hancock’s more languid forays into disco-funk. This kind of music – wah-wahs, swirling organ, afro-beat rhythms – just doesn’t get made any more. But Red Snapper have every right to attempt to reclaim the sounds of that particular era. Hyena is, after all, an ambitious project that aims to provide a soundtrack for the frenetic and colourful 1973 Senegalese road movie Touki Bouki.

It is useful to know a little about the film when listening to Hyena, it by no means essential. Certainly, some of the tracks are discernibly filmic in quality, notably Herder Can Ride, which resembles the theme from some lost Afro-spaghetti western, if such a thing ever existed. But on the whole Red Snapper’s seventh album feels less like a soundtrack and more like a sensitive but independent-spirited companion piece. Pretty much every track earns its place, and the range of influences is wide enough (and the arrangements interesting enough) that the album never feels like it is merely providing incidental music. Lassoo, for example, is a dubby delight, while Village Tap is a lesson in tight disco drumming and minimal but funky keyboard. It is one of a handful of tracks to feature vocals from double bassist Ali Friend – the lyrics are functional but the melody slithers along next to a tight guitar line, giving the song an extra dimension. The same can be said for the lithe Walking Man, a good old fashioned piece of trip hop given an exotic makeover by Rich Thair’s impressive drums.

There is more traditional-sounding African percussion in Wonky Bikes and a full-on wah-wah and sax assault on Dock Running, backed up by some slippery bass and tense organ stabs for that genuine seventies chase scene sound. Perhaps the funkiest moment on the album comes courtesy of Traffic, with Tom Challenger’s towering and memorable sax lines taking the plaudits. Challenger is the newest member of the band, but the transition from three- to four-piece appears to have been completely seamless and the music has really benefited, particularly on an album like Hyena where where the depth and texture native to African music are key elements.

Red Snapper have been described as acid jazz but on previous albums they have proven themselves to be much more, employing elements as diverse as Brit folk and drum and bass. Hyena sees them add yet another string – or whole set of strings – to their bow. It may just be their most rewarding album yet.