Nahko and Medicine for the People consider themselves as much social activists as musicians, self-branding their genre as “real talk music”. While it’s easy to dismiss this as a self-serving gimmick, especially with fellow real talker Xavier Rudd currently taking flak for his music controversially popping up in a KFC advert, a quick Google search shows they mean business.
The album begins with ‘Aloha Ke Akua’. One of the strongest tracks, it’s half activist mission statement, half call to join the cause. As the song progresses it feels increasingly busy, with vocalist Nahko Bear dashing back and forth between deep melodic vocals and frenetic Jason Mraz-esque rapping. There are two stripped down versions available online, one just a piano and the other acoustic, and the busyness of the track is mitigated by the simplicity of just one instrument. The album version however is overproduced, and by time the bizarre autotune outro kicks in, you’re left with wondering quite what the hell just happened.
The band’s mantra of spreading their message places a heavy focus on their lyrics, but unfortunately the quality of lyricism drops after the first track, at times seeming like an afterthought laid over some gorgeous, but often unoriginal, music. Repetition and non-rhyming is frequent across the album and occasionally redirects the band’s bearings from Bob Dylan territory to Free Verse poetry. There’s also an oddly frequent amount of cursing across the record, which in a post-Eminem world is hardly offensive, but often feels out of place and juvenile when there is such a self-appointed focus on the lyrics.
‘Warrior People’ is a blasphemous stab at reggae. While it’s an understandable genre for NMFTP to dip their toe into, the result is a caricature of reggae, from the track name alone down to the almost-offensive levels of reggaeisms placed over the vocals and lyrical content.
There are spikes of brilliance in the songwriting though. ‘So Thankful’ is a brutal autobiography of Nahko’s upbringing, impressively painted in a positive light. Supported by 90s era horns, scratching and a rolling acoustic riff, the track is a message of positivity designed to get lodged in your thought processes.
If viewed as a propaganda piece, then this is a relatively successful record – it’s uplifting, energetic, transparent and the lyrics beg you to help however you can. As another album on a shelf in a record store though it is a jack of a few trades and master of none. Dark As Night takes the sobriety test, eyes-closed and walking drunkenly down a line separating inspiration and imitation of artists such as Jason Mraz and Mumford and Sons, occasionally stumbling and taking a heavy step into the latter.
Nahko and Medicine For The People’s Dark As Night is out now.