Album of the Day: Da Lata, “Birds”

Since its inception in 1998, the London-based group Da Lata has been built around the core of Patrick Forge and Christian Franck, two musicians who had begun playing together almost six years earlier. The group’s lineup would expand and contract with each new record, enlisting seasoned musicians from around the world to assist Forge and Franck in their enthusiastic exploration of South American musical genres. Now, 11 years later, Forge has receded into the background, leaving Franck to be the North Star on the group’s fourth record, Birds. Aside from that, though, not much has changed; the group still ably turns out songs informed by a panoply of global styles—this time, primarily samba, tropicalia, and Ethio-jazz—and they’re still bolstered by a small army of musicians, including Bembé Segué, Syren Rivers, Luiz Gabriel Lopes, Diabel Cissokho, Vanessa Freeman, and more.

The strongest moments on Birds are the ones where the group fully commits to their globetrotting impulses. Album-opener “Mentality” finds an unlikely middle ground between deep Afrofunk grooves and the kind of sunshine pop practiced by ‘60s groups like The Free Design, counterbalancing a groaning bari sax line and deep baritone vocals with eerie soprano harmonies that drift in the air above like kites. “Dakar” is a low-lit Ethio-jazz groove that floats atop a humming organ line, its snakeline melody curving and dipping. They veer hard into samba on “Memory Man,” using its sprightly rhythms to support a soulful vocal; and the title track runs furthest afield, nailing the light, airy sound of a vintage Paul McCartney ballad. What makes it all work is that Franck surrounds himself with collaborators familiar with the internal rhythms of the music he’s writing, allowing them to sell each song with conviction. The whole thing is light and summery and warm—a perfect tonic for cold winter days.

-J. Edward Keyes

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