“Bad Meditation” is the first proper solo album from the Māori-Scottish singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Mara TK, best known for his past work in the future soul trio Electric Wire Hustle.
From the first guitar notes of the intro, the record unfolds as an exquisite, beautifully arranged suite of psychedelic soul music with a reverence for the past and a desire to push forward.
Because this is soul music, “Bad Meditation” begins with pain and one hell of an opening gambit of a first line, “My problems got their own problems”, on album opener ‘Highly Medicated’. That confession lays the foundations for a thirteen-song reflection on a lifetime of love, loss and eventual healing, all filtered through the lens of Mara’s indigenous experience. Complimenting this, Mara and an extensive cast of collaborators (befittingly given the number of projects he has contributed to over the last decade) take soul, jazz and folk-rooted frames and stretch them into driving, celestial shapes, all sequenced in a cinematic style.
From ‘Highly Medicated’ to album closer ‘Met At the River’ (Mara’s solo version), reflective observations in the mode of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway are commonplace across “Bad Meditation”. Refreshingly though, they come wedded to pastoral psychedelic folk-rock in the style of Arthur Lee’s Love band, music box melodies and machine drums that recall the beats experimentation of The Soulquarians. There are even moments of orchestral lounge music that wouldn’t sound amiss on a record from the famed Rotorua crooner Deane Waretini.
‘Grew Up Inna Chaos’, a rumination on an unstable childhood, features guest vocals from Mara’s nephew 2MY. Meanwhile, ‘Every Hori Is A Star’ and ‘Met At The River’ see Mara sharing respective song space with fellow Māori singer-songwriter and guitarist Troy Kingi and the Kenyan R&B singer and songwriter Xenia Manasseh. Listen closer, and you’ll hear contributions from the jazz drummer/techno producer Cory Champion, Wellington singer-songwriter Louis Baker, bassists Johnny Lawrence and Crete Haami, multi-instrumentalist and producer Riki Gooch, the dearly departed guitar hero Aaron Tokona, and Mara’s father, Billy TK Snr.
For Mara, the son of Aotearoa New Zealand’s greatest psychedelic rock guitarist, and a former hip-hop battle DJ who opened for 50 Cent and G-Unit before reinventing himself as a singer-songwriter, “Bad Meditation” is a watershed work. As the album unfolds in a lush and expansive style, the psychedelic soul sound he has spent the last decade chasing unfurls in a rich, panoramic style. Excitingly though, for as much as it gives away, every revelation comes partnered with a hint at further depths beneath the surface. This album is something to celebrate, but the story presented here is far from over.
Stream “Bad Meditation” on Bandcamp.