Available on: Kompakt LP

Electropop has always had a slightly artificial feel, as if the artists making this music got a Casio keyboard one early Christmas and never quite got over the sound of those particular presets. Many have tried to imbue this artificiality with a particular gimmick to set their sound apart from the pack; for Blondie, for instance, it was a fusion of punk, rap, and reggae. Art of Noise pioneered sampling and a focus on immaculate production. For Rainbow Arabia, the LA-based husband and wife duo of Danny and Tiffany Preston, the giant musical melting pot of the globe is their special sauce. Combining elements of electro, pop, West African rhythms and chanting, Arabic melodies, and dancehall from the UK and Jamaica, Boys and Diamonds – their second album, and first for Kompakt – is a complex record that mixes these sounds with punk abandon. Befitting considering Rainbow Arabia’s Danny is a former member of Future Pigeon, a group that mixed dub and punk.

The popularity of West African music has been on the rise ever since crate-diggers started exporting funk records from the region to the US and German scenes. One of the hallmarks of this sound is found in opener and title track ‘Boys and Diamonds’, with a chanting call-and-response vocal. That the song also contains Caribbean guitar licks and echoing percussion ala The Belle Stars’ version of ‘Iko Iko’ clues the listener into the collage of music to follow – ‘Without You’ eschews most global sounds for an intrinsically ’80s pop epic, with deep bass synths, soaring ABBA-style vocals and a slight punk attitude, while ‘Blind’ shows yet another side to the Rainbow Arabia sound, a steady techno thump dominating the song and reggae melodies.

‘Jungle Bear’ has a particularly Middle Eastern rhythm, close to the ancient rajaz meter from simple caravan songs called “the huda.” Rendered here with electronic precision and coated with a sugary Cyndi Lauper-ish vocal, it’s definitely a head-turning mixture, and the name of the band feels keenly appropriate with this song. With such an eclectic bed of music underneath, Tiffany Preston’s vocals do much of the heavy lifting in regards to making Rainbow Arabia sound cohesive, and her strained inflections have a dramatic flair which imbues these songs with a sense of seriousness. Where ‘Jungle Bear’ shows the gentle, somewhat typical side of Preston’s vocals, look no further than ‘Hai’ for a good example of the more complicated chant style she hones throughout the album. 

While adopting the sounds of foreign music styles and incorporating them with American sounds can come off as a cheap grab for consciousness and relevancy, the Prestons have a genuine talent at blurring the lines and crafting music that doesn’t feel beholden to any one scene. It’s music for musicologists to be sure, but Rainbow Arabia never forget what’s important about pop music: put a smile on listener’s faces and a wiggle in their step.

Keith Pishnery



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