Album Review: Maps and Territory by JuJu

This is the third album by Italian multi-instrumentalist Gioele Valenti. The previous two have been dark and serious responses to the refugee crisis that has left most of Europe struggling to make a humanitarian response, despite our significant resources to do so, with the latter focussing on the equanimity of our biological origins as a species. Both albums, ‘JuJu‘ and ‘Our Mother Was A Plant’, are infused with anger but also tinged with hope… something that I really got when I saw JuJu live last year.

This third album takes Valenti’s themes further looking at the issues of human inequalities through self-imposed and self constructed obstacles, which seek to fragment rather than unite up. We create barriers and, as a result, we create otherness something which is then amplified by those who wish to exploit difference for their own benefit.

In the past I have tended to look for meaning in the words of Valenti’s songs, but with this album it has fully clicked with me that we should also look at the music itself. This is perhaps obvious, and I had certainly got how the broad sonic atmosphere of the JuJu albums reflected their deep and considered meanings. However, I think I now get the greater nuance of the way in which he uses musical styles to amplify his message.

This is perhaps because the message here is of not being trapped by borders and working in silos. One of the reasons I moved away from my ‘Psych Insight Music’ blog was that the very name created an expectation and immediately set up a barrier as to what I felt I could (and others thought I should) include. As ‘The Fragmented Flâneur’ I am more free to wander around.

Valenti is melting musical barriers from the outset with ‘Master and Servants’ mixing African beats with European electronica and rock elements that, as usual, are bought together to great effect. This is not to say that they coalesce together smoothly… surely that’s not the point. Rather they create dynamism and an energy that is evident throughout this set.

This is every more starkly set out with ‘I’m In Trance’, which features Goatman from the Swedish band Goat. This is a real meeting of minds of two musicians who have similar musical outlooks creating a series of beats operating concurrently here which, if you were to analyse them too closely, couldn’t possible work in harmony… and yet they do.

‘Motherfucker Core’ is a much less complicated track at first listen, but as you get into it and the layers of sound get added one by one you almost become overwhelmed by the wall of sound with which you are confronted. All the way through there’s a central psychedelic theme around which chaos seems to ebb and flow. It feels to me like the track is saying that simple messages get lost in the flurry of complications that gets placed on them… for some chaos is a tool.

After that ‘If You Will Fall’ feels much less intense, and has much more space within it. There are once again a myriad of musical style weaving their way through the track, the overall effect here being less coherent… deliberately I assume. This gives the music a much starker tone… there is a real menace here which is hard to shake off.

As with all the numbers here the more forensic you are about the music… the more you drill down into the tracks… the more you find… if you take a sonic core sample from any of these songs you would get something very interesting indeed. Deep geological music for our times.

‘God Is A Rover’ takes the beat back up, and perhaps even past the rest of the album in what is perhaps as near as JuJu has come to a pop song, albeit within Valenti’s musical worldview… there some dreampop and shoegaze in there giving the whole thing a real ethereal feel which in a sense adds some light to the intensity of the rest of the album

The set concludes with ‘Arcontes Take Control’ featuring Amy Denio, another multi-instrumentalist who has similar influences to Valenti. Given my recent penchant for jazz, I am very pleased to see JuJu moving into this territory too. Jazz is undergoing a real moment of renewal at the moment, and is once again looking out and breaking down boundaries, principally with urban genre. Here Valenti and Denio have created just short of ten minutes of wonderfully, for the most part, understated music which is a beautiful example of what happens when barriers are broken down and outward-looking inclusivity takes control. Marvellous!

As JuJu, Valenti has once again managed to weave together many different genre and influences into an album that is deep and coherent. He continues with his serious message that, to quote murdered politician Jo Cox, ‘there is more that unites us than divides us’. This is writ large throughout Valenti’s music which emphasises the dissonant clashes of reality while also giving us a glimpse of what is possible through harmony (in both meanings of the word)… we draw the maps and claim the territory… sure, then, we can reclaim the unity.

‘Maps and Territory’ is available now on Fuzz Club Records.



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