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album review: jamie xx and gil scott-heron, we’re new here

We’re New Here is a story of three personalities.

The xx. A band who released an incredible mature self-titled  debut album, deceptively simple and complex. An album which featured songs like Islands, VCR and Heart Skipped a Beat. The xx, who, despite winning the coveted Mercury Award, has fallen into relative obscurity in recent times.

Gil Scott-Heron. A rnb and hip hop legend, his work throughout the 70s and 80s has permeated the genre and resonates with audiences to this day. His song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised could easily be an anthem for the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. His unique, spoken word vocals have become an iconic feature of his work. (If you’re not sure what his voice sounds like, think Morgan Freedman). While his career has been tumultuous at best, his 2010 album I’m New Here marked his return onto the music scene.

And Jamie xx. The man behind the synthetic drum beats in the xx. Someone who’s not new to remixing classic songs (check out The Xx remix of Florence and the Machine’s You Got the Love). A Brit who goes on to remix Scott-Heron’s latest venture, a 2010 album called ‘I’m New Here,’ with a record called ‘We’re New Here’.

But don’t listen to We’re New Here with the expectation of hearing an extension of The Xx’s self-titled album. It is distinctly Jamie Xx, and the emphasis is on Gil Scott-Heron.

We’re New Here opens with ‘I’m New Here’. It immediately moves away from the album sequence of the original Scott-Heron LP. Instead of an acoustic riff, it is layers of eerie synths. After an a capella intro, the song progresses from a collision of percussion to a methodical beat, which seamlessly leads into ‘Home’, a chilling combination of baritone vocals and erratic strings.

You can’t help but bob your head listening to ‘Running’. A standout track, Jamie Xx integrates a skipping vocal with an undeniably catchy beat, which seems worthy of its title. Its systematic beats will definitely be conducive to a long run.

‘My Cloud’ sounds like a person playing with the volume button. Listening to the record, it might seem like there’s an irregularity with your CD player, but don’t check for scratches (unless of course you treat your CDs badly, or your computer might need to be restarted), the skipping and repetitive hooks were clearly included from a stylistic point of view. However, it seems to occur often enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the record.

Beginning with female vocals only to enter into an array of beats, ‘The Crutch’ is probably the most eccentric and adventurous song on the record. From rapid, irregular percussion and chilling high pitch vocals, it is frantic and dynamic.

Listening to the We’re New Here album, its not difficult to imagine this as a radio set on a Saturday night. ‘Ur Soul and Mine’ seems to embrace this idea.

The first single off the record, New York Is Killing Me seems to be an appropriate introduction to Jamie Xx and/or Gil Scott Heron. It is probably one of the most spine chilling songs on the record. Extremely repetitive high pitched synths demand your attention, but Jamie Xx’s superior skill as a percussionist redeems the song. The inclusion of high pitched vocals against a heavy bass seems to add to the hair-raising, other-worldly elements of the song. It’s this that seems to carry through the whole album. I can’t help but prefer the original, more organic ‘New York is Killing Me’, but that’s the wrong approach to take when listening to a remix album. As an alternative take on an excellent song, it is an extremely good remix.

The record closes off with ‘I’ll Take Care of You’. It’s one of the rare songs on the LP that has some discernible instruments. A piano riff drives the song with urgency, and the bass compliments Scott-Heron’s vocals. It is possibly one of the strongest remixes compared to its own original, making it one of the highlights of the album.

It’s an album that’s almost spooky to listen to. Scott-Heron’s velvet-like vocals combined with Jamie Xx’s artificial mixing is an odd but intriguing combination. It’s a record that will scare you at first, but after a few listens you do find yourself hooked by one or more elements at a given time. It’s a remix album which caters to those who are synthetic, techno dance music enthusiasts, but it will take more listens to make an impact on the rest of us. Just don’t listen to it at night the first time. It might be difficult to walk down a dark hallway to your room.

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