When they were in high school, best friends Esther Quansah and Becky Foinchas could be found goofing off in yet another chorus class. Their instructor was an overzealous Corky St. Clair type who took his job a little too seriously. He “spent a lot of energy trying to make us the choir of his dreams,” Foinchas said in a 2018 interview. The curriculum included old Gaelic hymns and arrangements from the 1700s, which Foinchas jokingly referred to as “catholic, castrated boys music.” Despite the pair’s teenage skepticism, those lessons had a lasting impact. Now at the helm of Brooklyn-based group the Narcotix, Foinchas and Quansah flex a deep understanding of melody, and the group’s debut EP, Mommy Issues, spotlights their honed, dynamic voices.
Mommy Issues is sonically grand and expansive, taking inspiration from Foinchas and Quansah’s African heritage. (Their parents are from Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire, respectively.) The Narcotix cite African wedding music, choral symphonies, and Afrobeat as major influences on their style, which they describe as “West African art-folk.” Sierra Leonean guitarist Adam Turay is a distinct presence on the record; his bright, sharpened riffs pierce through denser compositions like “Lilith” and the sweeping “Adonai.” The latter track is built on Foinchas and Quansah’s interwoven vocal melodies, which range from sweet and theatrical to gruff and guttural. With a spirited outro that echoes call-and-response music in the West African tradition, it is one of the EP’s finest moments.
These six tracks are packed with mythological imagery and allusions to the Old Testament. Often, the religious references work as a vessel for storytelling, the way fables use familiar imagery to convey universal truths. Titles like “Rebecca,” “Esther,” and “Adam” all have biblical origins—but they are also names of band members. “John/Joseph,” whose title aligns with drummer Jonathan Joseph, is the tale of a daughter struggling to find her lost mother. Foinchas and Quansah pepper in images of Mars, the Ancient Ones, and impending darkness that suspend the narrative above reality. The missing “mama” at the song’s center could be a matriarch, a maternal deity, or even Mother Earth.
The Narcotix build worlds from this kind of loose symbolism while managing to escape the mystically inclined tropes of New Age music. Foinchas and Quansah craft gorgeous melodies, but they’re not afraid to scuff up their voices, a technique that keeps their work grounded. The sun-dappled arpeggios of “Rebecca,” the EP’s tamest track, are disrupted by a dry croak near the end of the song. On “Esther,” they interrupt their braided melodies with harsh bursts of breath, trailing off into a screeching wail and wicked laughter. Joseph’s crisp percussion, meanwhile, slaps against the reverb-heavy vocals, maximizing surface texture. These rough edges and imperfections help bring the EP to life. Early in their career, the Narcotix have a knack for subverting expectations. Their songs are bright and bursting with detail, fueled by an affection for the music they’ve inherited and the myths they’ve built from it.
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Read More: The Narcotix: Mommy Issues EP Album Review