Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Since the release of ‘Smash’, Jackson & His Computer Band’s excellent debut album, in 2005, movements have come and gone, and the whole concept of a “computer band” is the rule rather than the exception. Echoes of his sound could be heard in the electro from fellow Parisians Ed Banger and Institubes, as well as in digital maximalists like later Warp signings Rustie and Hudson Mohawke – if not directly then certainly in their method to micro-sampling and their more-is-more approach to sound design, cramming snippets of everything they’ve ever heard into any one bar of a track, endlessly tweaked through post-production. Jackson himself remained a constant throughout, putting out high quality remixes, but never hinting at new original material.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson’s sound has developed an awful lot – gone are the glitches and click-clack microhouse and IDM influences. In its place is something that is far more pop/rock-oriented, but it doesn’t stop sounding like Jackson, and it doesn’t suffer for it. ‘Glow’ is, start to finish, an absolute blast.
From the first notes of electro-psychedelic album opener Blow the album is a whistle-stop tour through disparate genres, taking in brostep-as-played-through-a-broken-walkie-talkie (Seal), acid breaks (Billy) crotch-grabbing rock (G.I. Jane), and dirty electro (Arp #1). Blood Bust is a 180bpm brash rock-via-gabba instrumental – it’s exhilarating, relentless, pounding, sweaty, and just plain silly – while songs like Dead Living Things, Orgysteria and Memory offset the brasher moments of the record and demonstrate Jackson’s ear for infectious melody and arrangement, irrespective of genre. For better or worse, everything is filtered through Jackson’s decidedly dumb imagination, and although they’re silly – Memory is a love song about a woman with amnesia with some questionable broken English – it doesn’t make them any less genuine.
That latter point is really important to appreciate the album. Jackson is completely genuine throughout. For starters, the album seems to have been produced in a time capsule. ‘Glow’ is reminiscent of electro-rock groups like Soulwax and Justice – music that hasn’t really been fashionable since about 2008 – and it offers a glimpse into an alternate timeline where these sorts of groups didn’t amp up the worst elements of their music (the distortion, masculinity and proggy pomp) but instead matured in songwriting and production.
Most importantly, the quality of songwriting and sheer depth of production makes ‘Glow’ anything but throwaway. The sound palette is so exact that a close listen to any one segment of a track will reveal about a million different elements going on at any one time, from arpeggiations to vocal layering to unique synth programming. It shows just how cleverly constructed the songs are technically, even if something like G.I. Jane is so ADD and downright corny that it may be a lot for the average listener to stomach.
There aren’t many records to have come out this year, least of all on a label like Warp, that are so fun, unpretentious and unashamedly uncool as ‘Glow’. If you can stick with it – and for a some people, its overt eccentricity may make that a big "if" – then it's a total joy.
Warp released 'Glow' on September 2nd 2013.