Words by Martin Longley
Perhaps we can forego debating the tastiness of the mouse-on-a-stick, a Malawi delicacy hawked by this eight-piece combo when they weren’t crafting compulsive folk-pop for their debut 2012 recordings. Theirs is a kind of Afro-reggae gospel, bare-boned and scrappy, using a makeshift deployment of rickety tools to captivating effect. This second album might not be much more than EP-length, but the sweet-voiced Mouse Boys manage to wedge in 15 ditties, including short bursts of clapping and a capella call-and-response.
Frequent bouts of chirpy whistled refrains arrive at strategic points in each of the very short songs. The guitar is often acoustic, powered by dampened strums, but when an amplifier’s engaged, the tone becomes fuzzily abrasive, even if this distortion is comparatively restrained in the mix. Bass lines are pumping, while the percussion is mostly very basic, consisting of finger-clicks, shakers, spoons and sticks chipped on bottles. On ‘Ndikagona’ the prominent foundation sounds like a primitive bowed string instrument augmented with bottle-top resonators, and on ‘Mwazi Wa Jesu’ there is some kind of buzzing Jew’s harp. Even their meatiest numbers are sparse and economical, with ‘Mupulumuke’ keeping to a tantalising 37 seconds, and only the exceptional ‘Mwayenera’ maintaining its chunky bounce for nearly five minutes.
Track to Try: ‘Mwayenera’