It’s been a while since we had an album from Coldcut. The last musical offering was a remix album Let Us Replay! which was released in 1999 on their own Ninja Tunes label, but they have also been busy establishing a musical software tool called Vjamm. Indeed, the reason for this recent musically barren patch can perhaps be attributed to the fact the London duo of Jonathan More and Matt Black have been busy solidifying the legendary reputation of their aforementioned label, which is home to the likes of Mr Scruff, One Self and the Herbaliser, responsible for some of the most innovative, funky and avant-garde beats on the UK scene.
It was therefore with knotted brow that I listened to the first single from this new album ‘Everything Is Under Control’, which the press release is keen to point out features “special guests Jon Spencer (of “Blues Explosion” fame) and Mike Ladd”. Be that as it may, it does not prevent it from being a shallow piece of superficial politicking. Much less than we had come to expect. Admittedly, the riffs are catchy and the beats are likable enough, but it was nice of them to make this the first track on the album, so it’s easy to skip past. And this is where the genius begins to tell. ‘True Skool’ features the disturbingly gifted Roots Manuva and mixes tabla and cheesy brass samples and the result is a truly infectious tune which is just great fun to move to. It is everything the preceding track is not.
Eclecticism and variety is something this album has buckets of. This is exemplified by the third track which again is a kind of antithesis to what went before it. It’s as if Coldcut are trying to shoot off all arrows in their quiver in very quick succession. The track in question ‘Man in a Garage’ which is also to be released as a single, is one of the best on the album. It is a bleak lullaby of urban banality and quiet desperation. The music is tinged with the sickly greys of our inner cities, and oozes a kind of melancholy worn by a million faceless office workers every day. This track paints a more evocative and depressing picture of the current state of the world than any political posturing ever could. Perhaps it is because of Coldcut’s acute awareness of this fact that a later track, ‘Mr Nichols’, deals with similar issues, namely with that of the decaying human soul as a result of our excessively consumptive western, urban lifestyle.
Put simply, Sound Mirrors is an excellent album with some outstanding moments, the title track for example, contains more innovation and creates more interest than most things that have come out of the UK in the past few years. It is simultaneously cinematic and minimalist, organic and electronic. This bizarre multilayered approach to the sound is reflected in the artwork of the album, which is made to resemble a sort of collage with layers upon layers of line drawing of urban shapes and forms. But there is also a DIY element, and that must not be underestimated, as it is clear that this album is intended to be accessible, and for the most part it does succeed. If the music on this album were not as tangible as it is, thanks to the fact that so much of it is anchored to real life, it would not be half as effective.
It’s not all sonic doom and gloom, and there are definitely some fantastic foot-stomping rhythms which grab the body before they grab the brain. ‘Just For The Kick’, with electro hooks and massive bass drum beat, is the perfect soundtrack to every dark underground club in Berlin or London, but never strays far from the central message of the album as a whole. Indeed, it is bizarre that there is such a unification on this album, despite it’s fantastic diversity. “Can you say ‘crossover’?”. It makes listening to it an adventure, as one never fails to be surprised by what comes next. Perhaps this is is biggest weakness, as well as it’s strength. Some may argue that cohesion has been sacrificed in favour of variety, and they would not be completely wrong. However, this does not detract from the quality of the album as a whole.
With a little help from their friends, Coldcut have produced an absolute gem. What is important, however, is that the both the political and personal messages contained on this album are heard loud and clear by everyone.