By Jamie Reysen
Where has Thunderball been for the past six years? My guess is the trio packed up their production tools, jumped in a time machine and hopped from decade to decade, visiting a variety of far-off places. After listening to 12 Mile High, I’m exhausted from the trip.
According to their website, Thunderball intended to create cinematic music, and they hit their mark dead-on. 12 Mile High has a plot and narrative, through both lyrics and instrumentation. There even seems to be a sense of place and time within each track.
Thunderball doesn’t waste any time kick-starting the journey. “Enter the Brahmin” brings a hint of mischief to the sitar, an instrument typically used in Hindustani classical music. Faint vocal samples and a complex musical mix propel classical Indian sounds into the future.
With jittery rhythms and modern electro sounds, Thunderball takes the sitar above and beyond what I thought to be its limits with “12 Mile High.” The track is a perfect summation of Thunderball’s abilities, with splashes of Middle Eastern and jazz influences that cyclically build up just in time for a repeated vocal sample: What is your location? Twelve miles high.
As “12 Mile High” comes to a close, things are just winding up. Thunderball transitions into “Make Your Move” which begins with the sound of an engine gearing up and a stewardess’ instructions to passengers. Then, Mustafa Akbar brings soul and funk into the mix with his vocals.
“I C Colors,” an upbeat, funk-inspired rhythm sends listeners back to the ‘60s. With reggae of the ‘60s in mind, Thunderball and Zeebo head off to a Jamaican island. Zeebo’s strong reggae sound is brought to new heights with a masterful blend of brass and electronic sounds. Zeebo’s brother, Rootz, couples reggae-style vocals with Thunderball’s upbeat funk in “Moon on the Rise.”
Brassy horn sections breathe life into “Flippin’ It On.” With flutes at the forefront, the track makes me wish I hadn’t quit the flute in middle school. Though a dorky instrument at the time, today, Thunderball turns marching band practice on its head, creating a sound that listeners will involuntarily groove to.
Songs like “Rio Mescalito” and “Rico Ritmo” pack a fiery Spanish punch. “Rico Ritmo,” featuring Miss Johnna M, creates imagery of a live performance at a club in Rio de Janeiro. Instrumentation switches back and forth from soft and relaxed to loud and sassy, almost overpowering her voice. Yet, Miss Johnna M’s voice is pretty enough to stand out amongst blasting horns.
Miss Johnna M sounds as if she’s bidding the listener farewell in “Runaway.” Though her vocals carry a certain soulful sadness, the music is energetic. In the last few moments of “Runaway,” the instrumentals fade, allowing the dramatic emotion in Miss Johnna M’s voice to stand alone, as she instructs the listener to run away.
But 12 Mile High isn’t over just yet. “To Catch a Vixen” winds things down, melodious and bittersweet.
The down-tempo “Penthouse Soul” is Thunderball’s true goodbye. As it plays, I picture 12 Mile High’s credits scrolling across the screen.
12 Mile High is the DC-based trio’s fourth album since their 1999 debut, Ambassadors of Style. It will be available for download Nov. 9.
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