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Baba Ali's 80s Cave

By Charlotte Saintoin |

This week we have awarded a Qobuzissime for "Memory Device", the first album of a fascinating American who fell into the 80s cauldron at a very young age...

Babatunde Teemituoyo Doherty, or Baba Ali for short, is an '80s man. But there's more to him than that, as Memory Device proves.

He grew up to the sounds of Prince, Michael Jackson and even Femi Kuti (who was a family friend), D'Angelo and J Dilla. A New Jersey native with Nigerian roots, Baba Ali combines the sparkle of funk, the coldness of post-punk, and the effusiveness of dance music to create the stunning, Memory Device.

Ali is an aesthete in search of total art who as a high schooler formed a duo called Voices of Black: "We were like, well, we're two Black kids but we listen to Radiohead and Joy Division and all this different music, and we don't wanna feel like we're in this box anymore. We want to make music that is expansive and goes everywhere and touches on everything." This attitude lay behind the creation of the philosophy they called "Yarchism," promoting an instinct-led approach to creativity, and the pursuit of the purest possible expression of one's creative vision. Ali developed this idea further while studying art at Brown. The more mature demos produced in this period caught the eye of his comrade Nicolas Jaar, who helped the pair bring out their first EP on the electro label Wolf + Lamb (Seth Troxler, Shaun Reeves), which was where Jaar himself had started out. There followed Nomad (2017) and This House (2020), two initial solo EPs influenced by the sounds of grime, and the artist's repeated listening of LCD Soundsystem and Iggy Pop, whom he discovered in London where he now lives.

Written in the solitude of lockdown and recorded between September 2020 and February 2021 with Al Doyle (Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem) in East London, this first long-format release is inspired as much by James White and The Blacks as. it is by Yves Tumor's Heaven to a Tortured Mind (2020). There's some late-'70s post-disco lurking in the heavy atmosphere of these avant-garde experiments (Better Days, Nuclear Family) as well as distorted vocals and depressive lyrics ("I've seen better days"). Synths predominate in this successful outing (Nature's Curse, Got an Idea), with support from bass and beats (Black Wagon), and a rounded-out sound that recalls funk and new wave (Draggin' On, Temp Worker).

But apart from the broad variety of musical references on display, what really makes this album captivating is the way the tension is maintained from one track to the next, making it the stuff of cathartic club trips. In short, a gem of a Qobuzissime, whose magic simply has to be shared.

Listen to "MEMORY DEVICE" by Baba Ali now on Qobuz

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