The recent debate between David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, on the state of indie rock, brought to the public’s eye an issue I’ve been grappling with for a little while. In an age of such discontent, even a radical moderate such as myself can find some solace in the sometimes-disproportionate anger of politically-conscious hip hop. Continue reading Beats, rhymes, and the radical centre
If you read Simon Reynolds’s excellent essay “Maximal Nation” you’ll know that, in the main, electronic music in the 1990s was “deep/dark/stark”, with some notable exceptions. One such exception was Basement Jaxx, the creative pairing of Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, forged in cult Brixton club nights. Somehow, they became a pop phenomenon, to the extent that their debut album Remedy, released in 1999, was one of my early musical purchases (My actual first? I subconsciously pestered my parents into buying Michael Jackson’s Dangerous on cassette in 1994).
Remedy had a sweaty album cover that demanded being placed face-down to avoid parental detection, and it also had a singularly obnoxious song on it that might well be seen as the forefather to Reynolds’s “digital maximalism”. “Jump n’ Shout” (see above) has a clattering house beat, incongruous wobbling and kettle-whistling sound effects, and a totally reckless parping lead synth. Did I mention MC Slarta John’s incomprehensible rapping, which vomits all over syntactical conventions?
Somehow, in spite of the panoply of competing elements (there’s even a beautiful, eastern-sounding melody buried somewhere deep in the mix), Buxton and Ratcliffe pull it off. The song is so ridiculous, you can’t help but fall for its charms. Call it the ADHD puppy that’s simultaneously yelping, biting, scratching and urinating on your leg, which you nonetheless take into your home.
Sounding like a cross between “Night Fever” and the Knight Rider theme tune, the lead single for the forthcoming Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, is a seriously catchy slice of music. “Stylo”, as it is titled, is also a star-studded affair, boasting some fairly unhinged wailing from a chap called Bobby Womack, and a rap at the end that appears to be telephoned in by Mos Def. And, despite my rather cynical tone, I rather like it.
Damon Albarn treads very gently over “Stylo”. Yes, the first verse is occupied by his wistful mumblings, but beyond that, it really sounds nothing like any of his previous work. It doesn’t even resemble a Gorillaz song. Entirely synthetic in its instrumentation, “Stylo” is a one-idea song that’s probably as addictive as crystal meth, and, let’s hope, not too representative of the album as a whole. Much as I’m enjoying it, I refuse to believe Albarn would seriously contemplate making a whole album of similar material – more likely, “Stylo” is a palate cleanser before Plastic Beach makes its entrance, replete with substantially more weirdness.
I say all this, and then I hear Bobby Womack literally crawling through my speakers with his deranged intrusions, and I think this song is utterly brilliant and terrifying at the same time.