You’d be forgiven for having missed Gala Drop’s self-titled debut album, or perhaps just forgotten about it seeing as it was released nearly six years ago. Since then Lisbon’s finest ambient electro group have successfully stayed under the radar, releasing just a couple of EPs and remaining firmly in the realm of whispered of cool. Most often recognised and appreciated by fans of Panda Bear (who they share a city with and, at times, a stage) they were always the type of band to name drop at a party. With the release of their second full length though, appropriately entitled II, there’s no hiding place as Gala Drop reveal all in their most open and expressive work to date.
It probably all started when the band realised they needed a new conga player, or perhaps during a serendipitous meeting with Detroit ex-pat and more than semi-legendary musician Jerry ‘The Cat’. Either way the two circumstances combined so that before long the band got more than they bargained for. Former percussionist with Parliament and Funkadelic, collaborator with Theo Parrish, performer with John Lee Hooker and all round embodiment of Detroit’s rich and varied musical heritage, Jerry adds more than just rhythm. He adds vocals (most noticeably as they have been mostly absent before) but he also drags the band’s sound out of the acid washed waters of previous efforts and in to the sun stroked funk Lisbon’s trendiest bars.
Predictably there’s more of a techno vibe, let off the leash from the first seconds of album opener ‘You and I’. Throughout though it’s combined with live percussion, a sort of Balearic take on prog but blasted with an (un)healthy dose of funk and dub. It really is a cross pollination of influences, pushed to tipping point like never before. ‘All Things’ injects some energy and optimism into the now defunct chillwave genre and manages to combine an aquarium sized list of influences into an unashamedly melodic framework. It’s a joyous listen, upbeat and teeming with life. Elsewhere though with ‘Big City’ all this colour and diversity combines to produce something that’s sounds, funnily enough, not that colourful or diverse. It’s less than the sum of its parts and probably not helped by the platitudinous vocals, descending into some sort of self-motivational soundtrack. In fact lyrics aren’t a strong point throughout as the “Leaving the heat of the gun/For the light of the sun/Sun not guns” in ‘Sun Gun’ attests. The idealism can be a little grating.
II has its moments, and closing track ‘Samba da Maconha’ is a novel electro re-imagining of more traditional samba and bossa-nova rhythms. But with no hiding place, and some of the mystique gone, Gala Drop lose as much as they gain here. Perhaps sat on a Portuguese beach, sipping on caipirinhas and the album would begin to get a whole lot more appealing, but right now it seems a tad underwhelming.
Buy: Gala Drop – II