Listening to Mahjongg is akin to discovering a low-frequency pirate radio station on your FM, broadcast from a shack in a remote island where political revolutionaries have set up a commune. Only they play music. It’s fuzzy, it’s danceable, it’s powerful. It sounds like the music of the future, heard through lo-fi sources. Spastic, static-ridden bursts litter the ten tracks on Raydoncong2005, the band’s latest. They’re what you might call dance punk, but without much that resembles traditional punk. And to dance to this music, you have to be swallowing copious amounts of uppers. And even then, you’re likely to run out of energy half way through.
Raydoncong2005 is the sound of revolution, of afro-beat uniting with Latin rhythms, of breakbeats being interspersed with dub and funk riding alongside punk…simultaneously. Even the album art looks like some kind of crazy eclectic music revolution — Rastafarian colors, ghettoblasters, dudes dressed in what look like marijuana plants and headphones made of coconuts. These songs are so eclectic and frenzied, it’s not always easy to tell what’s going on, like on the frantic funk track “THE rRABBITT.” By comparison, the herky-jerky dub punk of “Felicity” is simpler and more stripped-down. But it’s no less challenging or odd. “The Stubborn Horse” is even somewhat, erm, catchy? It doesn’t sound right when you hear the album as a whole, but it really is. It’s one of the album’s few pop tracks, though still a bit strange for Top 40 fare.
The band’s closest sonic neighbor would most likely be the funk-da-fied disco anthems of ChikChikChik or Out Hud, but there are other influences heard on Raydoncong2005 that go beyond disco-punk. The layered African-like sounds suggest Fela Kuti and Talking Heads, while the scratchy guitar is pure Gang of Four. And the off-kilter dub would fit in well in a Calvin Johnson record, but it’s the combination of all these factors that make Mahjongg who they are.
The deeper into the record you go, the more the band begins to sound like a singles-friendly version of David Byrne’s 1981 collaboration with Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Just eliminate the strange spoken samples and replace them with live vocals, and the end result would sound like what you have here. Overlapping rhythms, arrhythmic vocals and screechy guitars, as well as funky synths, make for a dizzying and incredible listen. Dare I say it, there really is hardly anything out there like Mahjongg.
For all the bands out there playing danceable punk rock, Mahjongg are one of the few that are willing to take more chances with it, stretching it into realms that few would believe punk is meant to go. But that’s what the spirit of punk is all about. So assemble and bring on the people’s dance party. Radio Mahjongg is broadcasting live!
!!! – Louden Up Now
Moonshake – Eva Luna
David Byrne and Brian Eno – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.