Raised in the French Alps, Angelo Spencer relocated to Seattle sometime in the last decade, settling in Olympia, where he lives with his family and chickens.
"I just built them a new pen!" he says over the phone. "We have three chickens. We used to have seven, but that was way too much, and then a bunch of them were eaten by raccoons." Such domestic concerns seem unexpected from a man so versed in multiple continents' worth of musical traditions.
Spencer first became fascinated with music after hearing Ennio Morricone's 1966 soundtrack to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. "Then when I was 12 or something, I got really into Iron Maiden and I just wanted to be able to play guitar like those guys," he says. "But I never got to play like them. After that, I discovered Sonic Youth and I was like, 'Oh, so this is the sound I've been making all this time. I can actually do something!'"
What Spencer does is easily as arresting, if not quite as loud. Recorded in Olympia (by Karl Blau, at Dub Narcotic Studio, with backing musicians Ben Kapp, Blau, Clyde Petersen, and Rebecca Redman), Spencer's latest, World Garage, is a delightful survey of world music that's neither contrived nor derivative.
"I was listening to a lot of Bollywood soundtracks, a lot of North African music, and Serge Gainsbourg's 1964 Gainsbourg Percussions," he says. The result sounds worldly but inflected with decidedly Western traits: Crisp electronics, Auto-Tuned vocals, and flawless production and mastering render World Garage a far-advanced descendant of Spencer's previous full-length, et les Hauts Sommets—an instrumental affair bearing none of this slick deliberation.
"Tanger, Tanger" breaks in immediately with a four-on-the-floor beat, jaunty guitars, and the advent of Spencer's vocals, Auto-Tuned and sung in French, his lyrics spinning as an otherworldly additional instrument. High-end guitar lines spiral in and out of bouncing bass and polyrhythmic percussion. It's like the soundtrack to flying over the summer Alps without an airplane—buoyant, soaring, addictive.
Much of World Garage is instrumental, but it's when Spencer lends vocals that the record takes hold. Whether he's singing in French, English, or Farsi—Auto-Tuned or unadorned—it's this seventh-sense dynamic that makes the songs. "Most sound guys usually grumble when I tell them Auto-Tune," Spencer says. "But after the show, they often say it was really great." It seems Spencer has located the elusive nonannoying application of Auto-Tune, and here—used lightly—it creates earworms.
The album's surefire standout is "3 Heures," which stumbles in with plodding bass before an undeniably infectious staccato guitar line winds its way throughout. Spencer's effects-bent vocals, in French, croon over electronic adornments as everything builds. The flurrying, jutting guitars somehow top the beauty of "Tanger, Tanger," and the vocals hit feverish passion. It's a hard groove to shake, until it abruptly drops out for the brash introduction of "Let You Down"—also addictive. Here Spencer dictates in English, interspersed with errant tribal-vocal inflections and Redman's background vocals, all vying for dominance.
"Ancient future, ancient future," Spencer calls on "Immune System Crashing Down," the vocal effects casting an eerie, sterile air. The call could be a manifesto for the whole borderless album.
CHICKEN ADDENDUM: The names of Spencer's remaining chickens are Camilla Two (Camilla One was eaten by a raccoon) and Morgan, plus a nameless one. "My daughter wanted to name it Chicken Nuggets, but it didn't really stick, so it's this weird chicken that's just there, with no name."
POSSIBLY RELATED ADDENDUM: At precisely 1:48 on "3 Heures," while singing in French, it sounds like he's singing "Fried chicken!" in English. TRUE STORY.