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Cosmic Analog Ensemble - Une Vie Cent Détours Music Album Reviews

Prolific producer Charif Megarbane mixes symphonic soul, grainy funk, and old European film scores to offer a relatively concise glimpse into his wide musical world.

Charif Megarbane makes music at a pace so rapid it would leave Lil Wayne circa 2007 in a daze. You can browse the Lebanese musician’s vast archives on Bandcamp, where, beneath the umbrella of his own Hisstology label and under many noms de plume, he drops new albums like Gary Oldman makes movies or Steph Curry hits threes—over 80 full-lengths since 2005. Such prolificacy sometimes precludes more casual listeners from entering this overwhelming orbit, but often operating as a one-man band, Megarbane comfortably shuffles between throwback genres at will, from nimble acoustic folk and Tony Allen-influenced Afrobeat to grubby funk and beat-tape boom-bap. He even wants the collection to look like your parents’ vinyl rack, self-designing a gloriously old-fashioned cover for each release.

Cosmic Analog Ensemble is Megarbane’s most potent moniker, under which you’ll often find his signature sound: a mix of the vintage movie scores of Ennio Morricone and Riz Ortolani and grindhouse cinema. You get the symphonic soul of David Axelrod and the airy charm of French yé-yé records, right through to Adrian Younge’s grainy funk and splatter-flick grooves. Megarbane plays on nostalgia and romance hardwired into our senses via pop culture. On Une Vie Cent Détours, one of his most polished efforts to date by any name, he toys with our notions of France and Italy—the ones instilled by quaint European pop fare and stylish black-and-white cinema. A devilishly simple piano underpins “Quiétude Inquiétude,” as lo-fi guitar lines, cheap organ riffs, and Megarbane’s deep harmonies (one of the album’s few vocals) guide you through the narrow alleys of a city you’ve never seen. The dramatic organ stabs of “Programme Original” score the most thrilling moment in some Paris-set movie you’re not really watching.

Despite this geographical specificity, Une Vie Cent Détours still trades in Megarbane’s endless appreciation for music from all over the map. (Having lived and thrived in Nairobi for most of his recording career, he’s now pitched up in Lisbon.) “Premiers Détours” offers a flavor of Middle Eastern pop. “Urban Safari” feels like a drive around the Harlem of 1970s Blaxploitation flicks, supported with the organ and bass of the scintillating Afrobeat that came from West Africa in the same era. “Ajournamento” seems summoned from the vast production archives of MF DOOM. A hip-hop head, Megarbane’s back catalog includes beats that sample his own original orchestration; rap producers looking to snatch a loop for their own beats should consider Cosmic Analog Ensemble.

Une Vie Cent Détours is Megabane’s second release for the French label My Bags, following last year’s excellent Les Sourdes Oreilles. Maybe it’s input from the label or the pressure that comes with spending other people’s money, but the relationship has prompted two of Megarbane’s most focused full-lengths. Through My Bags, Megarbane is building a streamlined version of his output. These are the records that newcomers should investigate before they dive into his robust archives. Une Vie Cent Détours is a major landmark on Megarbane’s musical travels; the next stop is right around the corner, location to be determined.

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