Mark Stewart and the Maffia - As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade
This record probably needs a bit of a remaster or at the very least should be played REALLY LOUD so one can discern the full impact of the often punishing old-school hip-hop oriented beats, the hyperactive sampling and the sheer sonic crunch of white noise prevalent in this release. Stewart already gained infamy five years prior for being an alum of The Pop Group, who (as you might already know) blended funk, punk, dub, free jazz, blues, noise, and lyrics ranging from the bleak to oblique that featured frequent sloganeering. Groundbreaking stuff, but on this effort Stewart and the Maffia — comprised of Sugarhill Records' house band — amped it up to another level by taking cues from producer Adrian Sherwood's built-in distortion obsession that he pioneered on The Missing Brazilians' 1984 LP Warzone. (In fact, one of the bonus tracks on this effort reworks "Igloo Inn" from the aforementioned album.) Almost every instrument sounds burdened by crushing distortion, from Skip MacDonald's guitar and Stewart's own commanding shrieks and hollers to the pummeling, stuttery drum programming. Stewart evokes the fear of the military-industrial complex, technocracy, the silencing of political opposition and more while occasionally quoting his old songs from The Pop Group (in case his warnings from the prior decade were yet to be heeded) or hits from the likes of Tavares either to seemingly lighten the mood or further disorient the listener. The production dates it a bit and lessens its impact, but this was very radical for 1985; only Swans and a handful of other groups would succeed at conjuring up anything this disturbing around that time. Meat Beat Manifesto, Tricky, the Maffia themselves — under the guise of Tackhead, not to neglect to mention Keith LeBlanc's worthy solo effort Major Malfunction based on the Challenger explosion — and the author of this entry had their conception of music utterly warped by this album.
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