JANKO NILOVIĆ — Funky Tramway (aka Funky Music) (review)

JANKO NILOVIĆ — Funky Tramway (aka Funky Music) album cover Album · 1975 · Exotica Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Dramatic, (eclectically) all over the place, funky, surprising, yeah, all of those things and more. True to his ability to write and produce music in an astounding array of styles, Janko Nilovic returns to material with some relationship to the masterful ‘Rythmes Contemporains’ from the year before. While ‘Funky Tramway’ doesn’t deliver the same level of exciting pieces, or the same depth of exploration, it’s still one of his best records.

The pieces here are generally longer than most of his releases, giving the musicians more time to explore some interesting themes. The songs range across funk, jazz, pop, psyche, rock and novelty genres, with funk being the approximate overreaching banner. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this album is the introduction (or intrusion?) of the synths, a sound that I at first didn’t think suited Nilovic’s take on exotica, but then, somehow the spacey sounds work well enough. They contrast if not compliment the horns and funk approach common to a lot of the songs. What it does match is the airy, female wordless vocals that feature in so many of his recordings, and so here Nilovic continues to explore and meld at least.

That dreamy atmosphere he creates so well with such use of vocals is typified by ‘Flemish Suite’ where they lurk beyond a jaunty piano intro, and slow everything down to a Pink Floyd-esque tempo in the best example of how the synthesisers are effective. Elsewhere his knack for writing material that would suit any number of cop shows has not waned, as parts of ‘Underground Party’ evoke this, despite the big-sounding choruses. In fact, if anything pulls this particular release down for me, it’s the use of vocals throughout. They aren’t terrible at all, and they always fit what the music is doing, I just don’t always enjoy them. ‘Manneken-Pis Rock’ is a prime example, though it’s got some good counterpoint going at times…I don’t know. Maybe it’s too chipper?

Where Janko jumps into a funky ones with both feet is where this album succeeds most, such as the Shaft-like title track, ‘Disconnected Song’ or ‘Gipsy Funk’ each which have some nice beats and soloing from the keys. ‘Atomium 82’ is reminiscent of the dramatic vocal chorus he’s often employed, and it alternates between quieter moments and what might be a synth freak-out. ‘Little Butcher’s Street’ is worth mentioning too, it satisfies my need for some longer soloing and ‘build’ in a song, though I could use a few guitar or horn solos too.

In fact, the more I write about this album, the more I realise the synth is the real star here. So if you aren’t a big fan of that sound but you’re looking to add another Janko album to your collection, have a listen to a few tracks first. It’s still got that familiar music-library exotica style, and definitely remains one of his better records, but with a distinct change in the sound of lead voices. So I can't go as high as 'excellent' here, but for a fan, I recommend seeking it out.
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