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Paqua – Akaliko

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artworks-000074083206-v4ehdx-t500x500.jpgLabel: Claremont 56Score: 8/10

Paul ‘Mudd’ Murphy has certainly earned his disco chops. From his work curating the highly regarded Originals compilation series to the soulful records that he has released on labels such as Rong Music, he has established himself as one of the UK’s foremost disco revivalists. Since 2012, he has been concentrating his efforts on Paqua, a band that has seen Murphy working alongside bassist Alex Searle and Phenomenal Handclap Band’s Quinn Luke. Through a steady stream of 12” releases on Murphy’s own label, Claremont 56, the trio’s raw and instrumental blend of ‘70s influences, Balearic vibes, and proggy sensibilities (not to mention haircuts) has quietly attracted something of a cult following. 

Central to Paqua’s appeal is that they are a disco band, in the old-fashioned ‘people playing instruments’ sense of the word. As much a live-act as a studio project, a fact supported by their recent appearances at Glastonbury and The Garden Festival, it’s an approach that has informed a predilection for long and heady jams. It means that their sound make a better fit for the LP treatment than a lot of their disco contemporaries, their live and almost improvisational-sounding aesthetic suiting the expansiveness of a 50-minute record much more than your typical collection of thrown together disco tracks.

Given the band’s partiality for full-bodied and ever-unfolding jams, it’s not a huge surprise that the listening to Akaliko is like being taken on a ‘journey’ like the albums of pop music’s heydays.  From the dubbed-out and cosmic hues of the title-track opener, to the ten-minute funky and fuzzy jam ‘Late Train’, to the softened guitar riffs of  ‘We Came Far’ that draw the record to a close, Akaliko is infused with both an ambitiousness and coherence that make for a satisfying listening experience as a whole. This is a record that, like in the days before digital tracks, is begging to be put on and listened to in one sitting. 

Those who have already been following Paqua’s releases might be disappointed that half of the tracks on the album are comprised of previously released work. What’s more, the older material remains the strongest work on the record. ‘Dinosaur Zappa’, with its driving bassline, rock-star vocals and catchy guitar riffs makes for an early highlight, as does the aforementioned ‘Late Train’.  The previously released ‘We Are What We Are’ also offers one of the album’s golden moments, with its lyrical adulations for the ‘summer breeze’ harmonising with sun-licked guitar riffs and tumbling hi-hats.  

That’s not to suggest that the new material isn’t up to scratch. Of the fresh cuts, the trio’s cover of Savanna Silver Band’s ‘Ruby Running Faker’ stands out as one of the album’s most captivating moments. A five-minute live disco groove, its perfectly judged vocals and soft bass slaps attest to the incredible musicianship at the heart of Paqua. Not only does it imbue the band’s work with an authenticity that so many disco producers lack, but offers a reminder as to the fact that certain sounds – the warmth of a real bass guitar, for instance – all too often can’t be programmed, but must be played for real. 

Having said that, whilst Paqua’s ability to authentically render the sounds of the late 1970’s might be their greatest achievement, it is also the project’s limitations. If you heard one of their tracks without knowing who had recorded it, you might well assume it to be a remastered song from thirty years ago. That is not wholly a good thing. The album might be an outing in god spirited homage and that concept manages to sustain itself (just about) for the record’s running time, but it leaves the question as to where the outfit will go next. 

Yet, this is a minor quibble for an album that is as much fun as Akaliko. This is feel-good music at its most credible and guilt-free. Offering the kind of attention to craftsmanship and musicality that you don’t find in many contemporary disco albums, Murphy, Searle and Luke have succeeded in producing a record that both oozes with cool and captures the washed-out, stoned haze of a golden generation of crossover music. With its summery vibes, easy on the ear rhythms and feel-good tones Akaliko is deserving to become one of the soundtracks to the summer.

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