The title of Stoka Ensemble‘s latest EP may not stick in the memory (“Hey, have you heard xx0E5/-1|1|—q%?”), but the music is extremely catchy. With one drummer, two brass players and three laptop musicians, the band offers a unique and upbeat sound.
Lead single “qɐqooN” has another thing going for it, as the main riff references the opening brass riff of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer. This gives the track instant recognizability and provides it with a sweet 80s sheen. In contrast, the electronics swirl around the piece like sugar-fueled insects, hoping for a taste of its nectar. The track sounds improvised in parts, as the layered horns head into battle with each other, but their numerous convergences hint at a designed construction. Opener “Sa\/annaⓗ” is similarly playful, with a stop-and-start form that draws attention to the gurgling laptops. The stutter-and-march that begins just before the one-minute mark is particularly appealing, as if the electronic part of the group can’t take the steady beat any more and must do something to manipulate it. Then they take over for a bit in the center before the other players get jealous and muscle their way back into the mix. The track ends in rolling kettle drums, gurgling electronics and a final brass blast. It’s all in good fun; the explosion of color on the cover reflects the explosion of sound.
A brief interlude marks the center of the EP, before a slow jam and a fast one. Stoka Ensemble is most effective in its fastest parts, and “jø∪\\jø∪” is another crowd pleaser. The band does need to rethink its titles though! Synthesized sounds slide up scales while the trumpets race to match their energy. Then it’s all over, a scant 17:41 after it began. In a longer format, the ensemble would have had more time to stretch its wings; for now, it’s a sweet, swift hello and goodbye. (Richard Allen)