Album of the Week \\ Kit Sebastian’s ‘Mantra Moderne’ conjures Turkish-Brazilian retro tropicalia

2nd August 2019
Kit Sebastian’s debut, released on Mr. Bongo, is a truly vintage set of tracks, defiantly using analog equipment to conjure an image of times gone by whilst ironically posing something new

Words: Harry Stott

For all his serious, brooding press shots, you get the feeling that there’s a certain wit to Kit Martin, the multi-instrumentalist who is one half of Kit Sebastian. Why else would they call their debut album – a dirging, analog laden set of vintage tracks – ‘Mantra Moderne’? It has to be some sort of joke, because this record is anything but a statement on the music of today. 

Created alongside Merve Erdem, an Istanbul born musician and visual artist who sings with the whispered, waif-like coolness of Francois Hardy, Kit Sebastian’s debut – which contains a constant ripple of Middle-Eastern harmony – feels at times like an ode to a Turkey of yesteryear. It’s a soundtrack that any 60s European auteur would have craved: hear it and you’ll picture classic cars on Anatolian mountain passes, or a bazaar at a dazzling sunset, with pair strumming nonchalantly away to a chic, raki-drinking crowd. It’s evocative of another time, and the way it was conceived is too.

The duo recorded ‘Mantra Moderne’ in rural France to 8-track tape using an array of antique instruments – the hit of the Farfisa organ on opener ‘Senden Başka’ lets you know the era they want to operate in. The band are at real pains to tell you everything they use is analog, and they were clearly engrossed in the hazy, smokey, retro soundworld of their instruments during recording. Unsurprisingly, what this all produced is an impeccably put together 70s rumbler: utterly atmospheric, bluesy when it needs to be, and with a touch of the east to set themselves apart from their slacker-rock UK contemporaries.

In fact, the record sounds much more akin to the current crop of Turkish psych bands who have been making waves of late – Altin Gun and Derya Yildrim & Grup Simsek both put out wonderfully folk-y, psych-y records this year. It’s a genre which is having something of a moment right now, and you can definitely hear it’s obscure tones in Kit Sebastian’s music.

Singular, slinking guitar lines are the album’s main musical motif. That’s what we’re presented with on ‘Senden Başka’, and you can hear it equally clearly on ‘Tyranny 20’ and ‘With a Sense of Grace’. At points these lines seem to get stuck in on themselves, locked onto a gyroscopic riff that must have been going round and round in Kit’s head for weeks. ‘Yanımda Kal’ – the album’s strongest track – contains the best of these: a deliciously funky breakdown. We are treated to a brief moment of silence amidst the many layers of guitars, percussion and synths, before building back up into, if not quite a frenzy, then the closest thing to it that this oh-so-cool, oh-so-chilled band are ever going to get close to. For the whole album is laid back, Kit’s dulcet baritone –  a 100% cocoa drawl that most of the time is barely audible over the throng – in particular.

This relaxed feeling also falls in line with how the band made their breakthrough. The pair sent unsolicited demos to Mr. Bongo – the Brighton based label famous for their Brazilian crate-digging prowess – and the label were impressed enough to release their debut. Sending off a demo sounds so casual, even antiquated, these days, the sort of story that you don’t think actually happens in the music industry, where A&R teams in glitzy LA boardrooms make decisions based on little more than social media ‘buzz’ (one assumes, anyway).

Winks to Tropicalia on many of the tracks on ‘Mantra Moderne’ are another reason Mr. Bongo must have been so keen to sign them. The samba rhythms and eclectic Brazilian percussion that opens ‘Pangea’ and ‘Yanımda Kal’ are only subtle, but they add an extra layer of intrigue to what was already a compelling Euro-Turkish crossover. “Anatolian lo-fi samba” is how the band themselves describe their music – make that ‘Vintage, analog, dirging, Anatolian, lo-fi samba’, and you’ve got a description that does their sound justice.

Order ‘Mantra Moderne’ by Kit Sebastian now via Bandcamp

Check out our mix and interview with Brighton label Mr Bongo

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