You can't talk about the Baby Namboos' debut LP, Ancoats 2 Zambia, without making a reference to lead man Mark Porter's familial ties to Tricky. The famous former Massive Attack pioneer turned solo trip-hop star makes noticeable vocal appearances on three tracks, and more or less pushed his cousin Porter, vocalist Leo Coleing, vocalist Aurora Borealis, bassist Julian Brooke, and drummer Maddog into a studio and told them to make music. It is a "family thing," if you buy the hype. Hell, the album even appears in the U.K. on Tricky's own Durban Poison imprint. But unlike other superstars, the diminutive Englishman doesn't burden the Baby Namboos with a signature style. While the music cavorts around the techier edge of dub and trip-hop, the Baby Namboos have more in common stylistically with the hazy funk of Herbalizer than any particular Tricky project.
That said, if this is any one person's show, it belongs to crooner Borealis (a.k.a. Zoe Bedeaux). Her slightly off-key and sandy delivery on "Hard Times" turns an otherwise sanguine postpop tune into a curiously sultry affair; she fights the British tendency for clipped vocals with an occasional exhale from deep within her soul, as though she's not quite sure she could be the next superdiva. These insecurities come flying off about a minute into the anti-celebrity tirade "Holy," where a passion and anger unscripted in the stiff lyrics bellows forth to meet up with martial drums and Coleing's syncopated subaural rapping. Yes, Tricky's hand and voice are all over "Persistence to Reminisce"'s wobbly beat and oscillating bass noodling, but he cannot best Bedeaux.
On the whole, Ancoats 2 Zambia isn't a huge departure from the aesthetic principles of trip-hop (if such a thing can be said to exist); it will make you think dark thoughts, but will do so with a swagger and leering glance to the moon-soaked pavement beneath your feet. Give them another album, though, and the Baby Namboos may be able to change that dramatically. -- Heath K. Hignight