For those not familiar, El Michels Affair is one of the most prolific bands in the rising neo-retro soul scene spearheaded by artists like the late, great Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and their respective backing bands, Menahan Street Band and The Dap Kings. I’ve been a fan of El Michels Affair for quite some time, so any time they drop a new release it’s cause for celebration and Yeti Season is no different. Sounding Out The City, their 2005 debut, is one of my all-time favorite albums in any genre. From there they only got better, dropping two majestic Wu-Tang Clan instrumental cover albums, Enter The 37th Chamber and Return To The 37th Chamber, before delving into noirish territory with last year’s album Adult Themes.
Proving they truly can’t miss, Yeti Season is another stone-cold stunner. The whole album is truly on another level and finds El Michels Affair again branching out in a new direction and expanding their sound. Like all of their previous, Yeti Season is an expansive endeavor, pairing El Michels Affairs’s nostalgic, cinematic soul sound with influences of Turkish and Indian psych funk.
Primarily an instrumental-driven band, the album also finds El Michels Affair working with guest vocalist Piya Malik on four tracks to great result. Singing in Hindi, Malik’s angelic vocals appear on opening track, “Unathi,” taking center stage over a swirling acoustic guitar riff. It’s a big statement for an opening song, a real departure from El Michels Affair’s previous work that lets you know you’re in store for something different.
Easetern vibes pervade Yeti Season throughout. Not many bands could pull off such a dramatic stylistic switch up, but El Michels Affair are not your average band. Standout tracks in the eastern vein include “Fazed Out,” a driving number backed by a Turkish-influenced guitar melody, and “Dhuaan,” a psych-laden Bollywood gem backed by Malik’s other worldly, floating vocals.
While much of the album explores refreshingly new territory for El Michels Affair, there are moments of familiarity for fans of their previous work. Hypnotic vibes reign supreme on “Sha Na Na,” an instrumental number featuring El Michels Affair’s signature soulful sound backed by a guest vocal appearance by Shannon Wise of The Shacks. “Ala Vida” presents a big, driving sound, a sweeping and expansive track driven by big horns and lush keys. “Perfect Harmony,” another standout, is a playful instrumental number imbued with ‘60s vibes.
Then there’s moments when El Michels Affair blends the familiar with the new. Like “Silver Lining,” a particularly hypnotic track propelled by oscillating eastern melody underlined by gentle guitar strumming and expansive piano playing. “Zaharila” also mixes the old with the new, with a big bassline and stabbing horns that bring the band’s Wu-Tang covers to mind, albeit with Malik’s vocals thrown in the mix. And “Last Blast,” with it’s bubbling, eastern drumline is an appropriate closing track that really ties the album together.
Excellent stuff from a band that continues to grow and get better with each new release.