XL Recordings’ head honcho delivers an intimate collaborative project that was years in the making.
Richard Russell is the co-founder of XL Recordings and a sometimes (onetime… ) DJ and music producer. He has been involved in recordings of his own (“The Bouncer” by Kicks Like a Mule back in ’92) but it’s as the head of the label that has brought us the Prodigy, SL2, Adele, latter day albums by Gil Scott Heron and Bobby Womack and that signed acts as diverse as the White Stripes, Radiohead, Vampire Weekend and Damon Albarn that he’s best known. This collaborative project has been nearly a decade in the making conceptually, and tackles the weighty subject of being alone in a world that is trying to claim your life through illness, despite being surrounded by friends and acquaintances. As a dance music project, it’s no Earth Wind & Fire or Kool and the Gang; it’s more of an electronic art piece.
“Intro” naturally sets the scene: ‘There are moments in our lives when that we feel completely alone/as though no-one knows what we’re going through’. The mood reminds me of DJ Shadow’s first album and early Orb. This short track is also the track on the album that features the most vocalists, not to mention Peter Gabriel on ‘additional’ piano. It quickly moves into straight song form generally led by a solo vocal. The music is underpinned by skittering beats, icy piano, cool keys with Russell himself appearing on all but one track.
Vocals are mostly supplied by Sampha, Infinite, Ibeyi, and Mela Murder among others – notably Giggs and Syd – and generally are pretty soulful or drawing on rap and hip hop. Samples include Curtis Mayfield and Grace Jones, but the record has a modern vibe that neatly displays musical heritage through bursts of retro synth, saxophones, guitar and bass. This a recording that a subwoofer enhances rather than floods. There’s a feel of Massive Attack about things but the music is far more widescreen, almost less focused if you were being critical, but in truth the real tightness on the record comes from its sharp focus which is underpinned by its bleak concept.
The spoken word part of “Intro” is used as a running theme across the album, appearing again in “Echoes in the Bone (Interlude)” and the closing “Be My Friend” and “Everything is Recorded”. Highlights are probably the Sampha led “Close But Not Quite”, “Mountains of Gold” (built around a sample from Grace Jones’ “Nightclubbing”), “Show Love” and the previously mentioned title track, though contributions from other lead vocalists are rewarding too. Despite the many contributors to this project there is a communal, almost spiritual feel at times with gentle hints of gospel chorus.
The result is a varied but uniform record, more likely to resonate with fans of arty music than dance music devotees. Think of how those last Gil Scott Heron or Bobby Womack albums defied expectation and were all the better for it. It sounds better through a decent hi-fi as the subtleties are lost in the car, even through a decent system. I’ve not listened to it on decent headphones, but I feel it would suit that environment too, obviously sitting in the near dark, glass of brandy in hand, alone. And that’s the records final juxtaposition, despite it’s massive collaborative nature, this is a solitary listen, a huge record about desperate loneliness.
Why not come in to your local Richer Sounds today and hear this album on one of our fantastic hi-fi systems in our demo room?
Author: Ian, Romford store