The Detroit-based instrumental group NOMO used to get tagged as an Afrobeat band, but that label was always too narrow. On two previous full-lengths — 2004's self-titled debut and 2006's brilliant follow-up New Tones — the eight-or-so-piece ensemble mixed homemade electronics and hymnlike horn serenades with polyrhythmic funk grooves, placing it closer to instrumental rock bands like Tortoise than to Fela Kuti–inspired contemporaries.
On Ghost Rock, the band has left the Afrobeat label behind for good. The album adds more percussion, more electronics, and more distorted thumb pianos, landing somewhere in among the German art rock of Can, the far-out space funk of On the Corner–era Miles Davis, and the extended textural experimentation of composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Steve Reich. The members get some help — world-renowned drummers Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake lend a hand on a few tracks, and on "All The Stars" their dense thicket of percussion pushes the band toward the hypnotic. But this is NOMO's album — in some ways a leap away from previous efforts but a leap forward too, the horn section blasting through pointier than ever on "Round the Way" and "Last Beat" and the rhythm section more tightly wound.
If there's a fault here, it's that Ghost Rock trades the more concise song structures and melodies of New Tones for deeper texture, a focus that allows the songs meander a tad too long. Still, even if this is a transitional album, it's an impressive one whose serpentine sound gets only more rewarding with repeated listens.