By Sarah Godfrey
Kinshasa group Konono No. 1 is still using homemade likembé (thumb pianos) and drums and amplifiers crafted from salvaged parts, still putting out the same brilliant Bazombo trance with the junkyard feel that first floored listeners on 2005's "Congotronics."
On "Assume Crash Position," the latest from the Congolese street band, things sounds just a wee bit glossier. It could be the work of producer Vincent Kenis, or perhaps the sheer volume of players on this outing -- guest vocalists, members of both a Konono cover band and the Kasai Allstars -- are responsible for a slightly bigger sound.
The small shift isn't good or bad, it just is -- Konono may sound marginally changed, but that doesn't mean it has moved from the lo-fi, beautifully gritty sound that has charmed hipsters the world over.
Opener "Wumbanzanga," a jubilant, dense piece crowded with sounds, eventually leads into "Thin Legs," which is completely stripped down, all drums and whistles. "Thin Legs" is interesting in its own right, but even more so as a trim intro for "Mama Na Bana," which has Konono founder Mawangu Mingiedi guiding a mesmerizing composition of plinking thumb pianos and hypnotic vocals.
A few seconds into "Makembe," there is a loud crash, said to be the sound of a wall collapsing not far from where recording took place, but the band plays through, right up until the sweet, unexpected album closer, "Nakobala Lisusu Te," where Mingiedi goes it alone, accompanied only by his likembé.
Konono No. 1 performs at the Black Cat on July 22.
Recommended tracks: "Mama Na Bana," "Wumbazanga," "Makembe"