While soul and funk music reached their peak mainstream popularity sometime in the 1970s, there can be no denying that, when done tastefully, there are no bounds to how invigorating a good bit of funk or soul can be. Butternotes seem to have it in their pockets with their debut EP Sweet Things.
The Cairo-based 5 piece outfit, Butternotes’ debut EP is an instrumental affair, and it’s executed with love. The three cuts on Sweet Things have widely varying sounds, but running for a combined 8 minutes and 43 seconds, the only thing we can fault Butternotes for is the very short lengths of the tracks. The tiny playtime can convey low confidence, even if it is low confidence in the attention span of the listeners, which is understandable, but doesn’t help the simple fact that they could have had a little more faith in their sound and process, which are top notch on Sweet Things. Simply put, we need more!
The EP kicks off with Cheesecake. Born out of a competition between the band’s 2 guitarists over whose guitar sounds better, which then evolved into the song’s riffs and licks, the band decided to call this cut Cheesecake because just like the two guitars used, you wouldn’t think cheese and cake go well together, but they do. The song starts with Yehia Afifi’s tightly overdriven guitar riff which gets doubled on Ali Elafifi’s bass after a couple of repeats, adding considerable heft to it. The band then establishes a groove and sticks to it. The pacing makes the song sound lovingly sleazy, the snaps, and Qubi’s red hot guitar licks on top of the main riff are all perfectly orchestrated and well planned, but the resulting sound is wholly organic. The song’s secret weapon is without a doubt Elafifi’s meaty bass line that is foundational. Notice how his rolling bass line establishes an entirely different feel when the song hits its short chorus.
Peach is more funky soul, but this time the band doubles down on the soul part of the equation. The sensual vibes, courtesy of chorused guitars, a simple 2-chord vamp that’s familiar from a million other songs, and jazzy turnarounds that are full of dazzle and drama, are the meat and potatoes of the piece. The laid back bass and drum parts let the guitars rip in all the free space on top, and with stellar overdriven tones, rip is all they do. The licks are sweet and the phrasing is spot on.
A noteworthy point about the band is how they know that one line or melody that sticks, and they’re not afraid to use it, and take it to the next level. The way they end Cheesecake is showing of that, with the most memorable part the song’s most prominent lick, or the whistled melody on Peach, which they know is clearly the song’s money shot.
On the closer Jelly Jazz, the rhythm section is truly the element. The one chord vamp allows Elafifi’s bass to establish a groove with a steady riff played on the lower strings of his bass, while Sherif Elgharib’s tight sounding snare shines in a syncopated shuffle beat. A capable rhythm section without a hint of doubt, and Tarek Hussein’s tasty, airy pads are the final element in establishing an unforgettable atmosphere.
The inhouse production from the band’s own Aly Qaliuby, aka Qubi, is flawless and all elements of the band’s organic sound is effortlessly in the spotlight. Butternotes could have slept on this project for a while until they had some more tunes ready. They got us hungry for more, with few good alternatives around to satisfy those cravings.