ALBUM: Kula Shaker ‘K2.0’


Half way through listening to K2.0, you come to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, the Cowell-inspired hell of the past decade has been nothing more than a blip, perhaps even a bad dream from which you have just awoken, and that, blessedly, real makers of music have begun to re-emerge, stepping and blinking into the light.

Some of those players from a better, half forgotten time, have returned to make the music they love. So it is with this, their fifth album, that Kula Shaker saunter back into view on the Strangefolk label. And they’ve brought their sitars with them.

For anyone who liked the give-a-damn amped-up Indic funk of ‘Govinda’ (1996, and the only British Top 10 hit to be sung entirely in Sanskrit), there is much pleasure to be found on this new record as the band, led by Crispian Mills, has come up with an 11-track long player that dives deeper into their own compelling fusion of subcontinental beats and Anglo Saxon folk-rock.

Having enjoyed the fast ride that was the Britpop wave almost two decades ago (and getting the Gallagher nod of approval along the way), Kula Shaker has always been too accomplished a band to bother with the fickle demands of the music industry. This year, therefore, they step back into the limelight with a clutch of classically inspired tunes. ‘Infinite Sun’ – an obvious choice for a single – invokes the spirit of arguably the most tasteful of the Fab Four: Mr Harrison. An eminently danceable song with a textured production, it leaves in all the flavoursome rough edges and changes gears several times, but hooks you nonetheless. Like all the best pop, it catches you in the right places.

On K2.0, Mills – as modern-day ‘kirtankara’ (a performer of call and response chanting) – happily reveals his continued interest in Indian polyrhythms, his much-loved mantras evident on ‘Oh Mary’, ‘Hari Bol’ and ’33 Crows’. Tracks like ‘Holy Flame’ provide further evidence of the band’s love of late-Sixties rock fusion not a million miles away from the sound made by Traffic, while ‘Let Love B (with U)’, ‘Here Come My Demons’ and ‘Get Right Get Ready’ provide ample proof that these boys can play with the best of them.

“This album took us a bit by surprise because nobody realised it had been 20 years since we started,” Mills has said in a recent interview. So again, it’s a case of musicians at once indulging and surprising themselves, with Mills’ nasal intonations now evoking an ageing Lennon. The band guilelessly wears its influences on its sleeve. There’s gallows humour (‘Death of Democracy’) and muscle (‘Mountain Lifter’) in equal measure on this record. It’s the sound of players fluidly reasserting themselves. It’s a very welcome return, and with the recent news that fellow Nineties luminary Richard Ashcroft is also getting back into the studio and out onto the road, let’s hope K2.0 marks the beginning of a renaissance for the British mainstream. It’s about time.

K2.0 is released on 12th February via StrangeF.O.L.K LLP

Jason Holmes