If The Very Best ring a bell in the back of your mind, it’s probably because you heard about them back in 2008 and 2009 amidst the blur of super happy tropical-tinged indie bands. Back when Vampire Weekend and Santigold were just emerging on the scene and M.I.A. was still blowing minds with Kala, The Very Best dropped a free mixtape that sampled all of the above and more, with Malawi singer Esau Mwamwaya crooning some gorgeous lines over familiar tunes. A year later, their LP Warm Heart Of Africa dropped, featuring two excellent singles. The title track hosted Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend on the chorus (the video has him doing some pretty sweet dance moves in front of a green screen). But those happy times didn’t last forever, and now, the music scene doesn’t look nearly as tropical and bouncy as it did three years ago. But Mwamwaya and UK producer Radioclit haven’t been left in the dust. With new album MTMTMK, The Very Best take you to the dance floor in a relevant way, while still providing their listeners with obscene amounts of happiness.
MTMTMK definitely puts the “pop” in afro-pop. Where Warm Heart of Africa was heavy on big, sweeping choruses backed by tropical electronica and retro synthesizers, MTMTMK mostly takes on radio-friendly dance pop and hip-hop and gives it a Very Best twist. “We Ok” (co-written by Bruno Mars, of all people) and “Kondaine” are perhaps the best examples of this. Each begs for a sing along amongst the unapologetically poppy synth lines and upbeat drums. “Rumbae” is a super fun hip hop dance track that could be played right alongside top 40 material in a club. For new fans who want something fresher and more uplifting than everything you hear on pop radio, these tracks are solid gold.
On the other hand, long time Very Best fans will most likely sway towards the second half of the record. Starting with single “Yoshua Alikuti”, the record moves into more familiar territory. This track and “Rudeboy” are fantastic offerings of darker, jungly hip-hop akin to Warm Heart of Africa track “Rain Dance”. But long time fans know that The Very Best shine hardest when Mwamwaya just wails on the vocals and they could care less about making it to the radio waves. “Bantu” is an epic, swirling track featuring a lot of guest vocal spots from other afro-pop and worldbeat musicians, making for perhaps the most captivating track on the record. “Mghetto” is a dark reggae track with Radioclit throwing plenty of variation into the backing beat to create a vibrant and experimental piece of art.
The new offering from The Very Best is a grab bag with something for everybody, but the ultimate spirit of the group is not lost. MTMTMK is an epic record that has a lot to offer those who are willing to give it a try. The Very Best is touring soon in support of MTMTMK and will play in Seattle on August 22 at the Crocodile. MTMTMK is out now on Moshi Moshi Records! You can grab it on CD and vinyl at your local record store. Visit their website for free music and more information on the band.