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Arsenal - 'Oyebo Soul'

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WORLDBEAT MEETS ELECTRONICA", shouts the sticker affixed to Oyebo Soul's cover. Arsenal's web site also (somewhat inarticulately) exploits the genre-bending angle: "When others try to mix different influences the way these guys have... they generally end up with something similar to a JB-Coke... Arsenal turned their oyebo soul into pure brandy." Apparently this means that a couple of producers from Belgium have assembled a bunch of performers and accomplished musical alchemy.

It's not as exciting as it sounds. Arsenal, otherwise known as Hendrik Willemyns and John Roan, have made quite a pleasant record. Oyebo Soul (which means "whiteboy soul", as nearly as I could pinpoint by extensive Googling) is chock-full of the promised hand drums, jungle sounds and summery multilingual singing, as well as the more digitized embellishments that make up the "ELECTRONICA" participant in this particular rendezvous. Electric piano and beguiling female "ba-ba-da-ba-ba-ba-ya"s churn up pleasantly hypnotic rhythms in "A Volta" (Oyebo Soul's Track That Got On a Bunch of Comps); "Longee" takes an approach that's more pop/rock than worldbeat, putting guitars in the forefront of its instrumental element. The (female) vocals in the beginning of the song reinforce this impression, sounding a bit like early Michael Jackson given free rein with a delay unit. Very pretty.

What Oyebo Soul is missing is substance. The worldbeat influence lends Arsenal's work an organic feel, but it seems like just that: a loan. Good production is lovely, but it will only get you so far, while from a songwriting standpoint, melodies that aren't all that interesting to begin with are repeated too many times over the course of individual songs. I suppose you should expect some fluff from a disc with a track called "Mr. Doorman" about trying to get into da club, but Oyebo Soul, for all its scholarly mix of sounds, threatens to float away.

-- Sarah Zachrich



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