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07 September 2018
KUU!’s songs are so well honed, they have a way of emotionally hitting the spot, and also staying lodged in the mind. The lyrics are thematically diverse, tending to be based on powerful commentaries on the times we live in. The surreal, the utopian and on occasion the comic characterize the poetry, but Jelena Kuljić does not just colour or sketch things in.
She communicates the inescapable truths of a song like “We Watch Them Fall” with an unbelievable alertness and expressiveness. Sometimes she does this with a punk attitude, sometimes in psychedelic indulgence, sometimes she's pseudo-naive. She knows how to provoke and spread mischief. She can feign and evade, but finally she makes her point with telling precision.
In the title track “Lampedusa Lullaby” KUU! present a dark dystopian vision of human cargo on the move: “Endless journey through the night over the black-eyed sea.” Kuljić can dwell on the feeling of being in unfamiliar places, of uncertain dawn, of strangers and of past events – the songs can become slide shows from other people’s lives. Lampedusa is no longer just a Mediterranean island between Tunisia and Sicily. As a real place with its traffickers and migrants, where cross-border death, unscrupulousness and illegality are all too commonplace, it has become a metaphor for a large scale criminal business where the fates of individuals count for far too little, and where there is evidence everywhere of the failure of traditional politics to meet new challenges. These are the things KUU! tell us about.
KUU! is a band of superlatives. It is an outstanding representation of new European jazz at its most innovative, but also shows on “Lampedusa Lullaby” with razor-sharp precision a way that rock music can function today. That way is neither about grandstanding nor competing, it is about collective expression. In the centre, the drums turn up the pressure, while to the left and right the two guitars merge into a gigantic and sensitive meta-instrument.
And what emerges quite naturally is good, forceful and evocative music beyond category. It is unnecessary to mention either Zappa or Nina Hagen as reference points, just listen with the volume turned up, and forget all preconceptions. It speaks to us because it has something to say.
The music on “Lampedusa Lullaby” packs an incredible power. It disturbs, connects, it has a way of getting through to the feet, the head and the soul – and all the same time. Sometimes the three conspiratorial individualists with their instruments might lay out a comfortable rug for their singer – and sometimes it might be a bed of nails. This music grows ingeniously, inventively – and irresistibly.