It’s been said that every great novel has been made out of the same 26 letters. The same kind of sentiment has been made with music and its notes. Ultimately, everything old is new again, and nowhere is that more true than with popular music. We’ve heard it all before. Sure, Lady Gaga’s latest single is yet another Madonna pastiche, but the triumph or failure lies not in its homage, but in how effectively it creates new space for once trodden fields. Very few, I would argue, have done that very thing as effectively as Bristol duo, Malachai.
Apparently, the dream of the ’90s is alive in Bristol as well. The trip-hop ripple effect has reached the second decade of the new millennium in Return to the Ugly Side, the sophomore album from Gee and Scott. But whereas their debut, The Ugly Side of Love, was frenetic in its breakneck hallmarks, its follow-up is a bit more eclectic and laid back, taking cues from Portishead’s Third and DJ Shadow’s …Endtroducing. With the epic, Inception soundtrack-like tracks of “Monsters” and “Monster” dividing the record into halves, Return lazes in stoner-rock meets trip-hop and does it in hypnotic style.
The first half is peppered with morose and foreboding songs such as the late Beatlesesque-meets-’90s acid trip of “Anne,” the awesomely jagged “Zeppelin wizards” guitars of “Mid Antarctica (Wearin’ Sandals)” and the Specials-meets-Stone Roses duet with Katy Wainwright of “Rainbows.” These kinds of touchstones are often revisited throughout the rest of the album, with intense breakbeats layered with different eras of psychedelia.
Gee’s vocals are more emphasized in this second go-round, vacillating between the fey warblings of Starsailor’s James Walsh, Delays’ Greg Gilbert or Suede’s Brett Anderson. “How You Write” and its follower, “Let ’em Fall” are two of the more glaring examples of both the new, more luxurious sound and emphasis on vocal dynamics. While those tracks perhaps aren’t the standouts, they are representative of the overall feel. For the highlights, refer back to “Monster,” “Rainbows” and “My Ambulance.” The second half does have its own moments of triumph, especially in the beautifully smooth and soothing “Snake Eyes,” itself reminiscent of some of the greater soundtrack moments from Thomas Newman.
Portishead – Third
Starsailor – Silence is Easy
Massive Attack – Protection
Stream: Malachai – “Rainbows”