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Ghost Decibels: Chaka Malik’s Icy Electronic Soul

Photo: Jammi Sloane York

Syncopation... atmosphere... dynamics... These are all hallmarks of music that reflects a true artistic aesthetic at work, irregardless of genre.

Chaka Malik's musical journey has taken him from the primal, hardcore-driven catharsis of Burn to the alternative, '90s styling of Orange 9mm—as well as various acoustic/roots rock projects. His latest offering is a solo project he's dubbed Ghost Decibels, and on the surface it would appear to be a radical as well as unrecognizable departure from anything he's ever previously attempted.

Some key reference points for this new project are Bowie's mid-'70s electronic excursions, found on his Low album, and the soul/funk vibe of the Young Americans LP—plus '80s synth drum-driven goth and post-punk, alongside a keen R&B-ish vibe that pops up at unexpected times with soulful vocal hooks.

People that currently codify subgenres within genres would file this under the all-encompassing monikers of coldwave or minimal wave, and that's true to an extent, but I would prefer to call it "icy electronic soul." That tag reflects an urban (American) and European synthesis of shared sensibilities. This is due in part to Chaka living in the old continent for a number of years, and drawing from his upbringing in the major U.S. metropolis of New York.

Photo: Jammi Sloane York

Previous artists like Afrika Bambaataa have found inspiration in the cold, old world Teutonic sound of bands like Kraftwerk, reimagined it, and used it as a foundation to create the urban electro/nascent hip-hop beat of "Planet Rock"—which subsequently became the template for freestyle, an '80s NYC dance genre played primarily by Latin and black performers that layered R&B/soul onto Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" drum pattern. That same beat inspired black DJs in the industrial hub of Detroit to put out minimal, futuristic-sounding 12"s that started the movement known as techno, and by extension, birthed the myriad variations of what we now call electronic dance music (EDM). There's also an austere gothic element present that reflects the UK in the '80s (Bauhaus) and NYC in the '70s. The pioneering act known as Suicide is a prime example of how much warmth and feeling can be conveyed through what is essentially music made on machines.

SEE ALSO: 2015 interview with Chaka Malik.

You don't have to know all this in order to appreciate Ghost Decibels, but if you want to understand where Malik's coming from these days, this background info is a good place to start. Ultimately, you are the one that decides what type of music connects on an emotional level. His new musical direction is rooted in a desire to share additional pieces of himself. He still honors the vibrant beginnings which he is humbled and thankful to revisit with Burn—who are currently playing shows and recording new music—but when it comes to Ghost Decibels, one of Malik's past lyrics comes to mind: "I stand on new ground where nobody knows me... I begin again."

Ghost Decibels is meant to be an audio and visual experience. A five-song cassette is slated for release on Cassette Store Day on October 17th, as well as an accompanying video for each song—of which the "Into the Wild" clip, filmed by Jammi Sloane York, is the first offering, and can be seen below.

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Follow Ghost Decibels on Twitter: @ghostdecibels
Official website: www.ghostdecibels.com

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