Toby Marks, the creative force behind Banco De Gaia, is one of the world's leading exponents of globally inspired eclectic electronica. He mixes electronic and acoustic instruments and His distinctive vocal style has influenced an entire generation of artists. Banco de Gaia's latest, Farewell Ferengistan, once again mixes up sounds from around the planet with slamming grooves and ambient meditations. From the Bhangra-esque dance monster, 'Kara Kum' to the epic 'Saturn Return', Ferengistan is filled with the kind of fresh won Banco a rabid fan base around the world.
There are a few artists in the swirl of U.K. electronica that keep trying to push the boundaries, and Banco de Gaia is one of them. The ethno-techno design that founder Toby Marks debuted some 15 years ago was already a broad palette to draw upon, but Marks goes beyond that. He's still using the Middle Eastern grooves and chants which may or may not be fake, but there's also the dreamy atmospheres of the title track, a drifting ambient tonic that segues into an almost '50s-style rock piano riff on "Ynys Elen." Like most of Banco's music, there are always hidden touches and references. "Flow My Dreams, the Android Wept" not only nods to Philip K. Dick, but the vocoder vocal on Wendy Carlos's A Clockwork Orange
score as well. Marks has said that he doesn't want to just make "wave your hands in the air" music, but he does do that so well, including the epic "Kara Kum," with the pounding Qawaali drumming driving the track into ecstasy. But as Last Train to Lhasa
illustrated, Marks has always been a musician who puts his politics into his music. Farewell Ferengistan
pushes even deeper into themes of globalization, nation-building, and mechanization. In a mostly lyric-free music, those concepts are implied more than proselytized, and even when he makes a political comment, it's often with a wink. He relates that "Ferengistan" is an ancient Arabic name for the West. I can find no corroboration for that claim, but knowing Marks, it's really a nod to Star Trek
and its venal Ferengi race. Like all Banco de Gaia's albums, Farewell Ferengistan
is a journey, sometimes joyful, often bittersweet. --John Diliberto