Artist: Basement Jaxx
Label: Ultra Records
Due Out: October 6th
Ten years removed from the electronic/house band's debut, Remedy, it seems as if Basement Jaxx have run the gauntlet of career possibilities. From underground darlings, to everyone's favorite pop act, to an afterthought, the range in their ten-year career is not completely uncommon, yet still abrupt in its changes. This time around, they try to get back to "favorites" status, employing a lengthy cast of characters from across the genre spectrum-- Santigold, Lightspeed Champion and even Yoko Ono appear, just to name a few. The results? An experimental pop sound in a year chock-full of efforts looking for similar reactions. However, Scars does work to set itself apart in ways that others with less-notoriety cannot, which lends to both its fleeting successes and more frequent shortcomings.
Scars actually starts out on a fine note. The title track, "Scars" is an epic mix of R&B and pop. It soars to one dramatic crescendo after another, seemingly climbing higher and higher with each verse. The song comes off as an exciting opening shot for the album, and could have potentially been the tone-setter for an album full of hits. "Raindrops" follows in an equally-enthusiastic manner, turning in what is without a doubt the effort's best track, and coincidentally, the only one which just features the band by themselves. As many who have heard it already know, it's radio-friendly and ecstatic; the quintessential dance-heavy single that is a necessity for a group such as this.
Then things get a bit questionable. "She's No Good" bounces between hip-hop and big band jazz, before settling on what sounds like an electronic homage to Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5," an odd sentiment if I've ever seen one. "Saga" disappoints equally, as it sounds less like a Basement Jaxx track, and more like just a remix of a Santigold song. The pop and reggae mix resembles Santigold's usual sound so much, it might as well have been on her album.
The atmosphere does, once again, take a turn for the better, as the band does put together a few serviceable tracks, interspersed in the early middle of the album. "Feelings Gone," which features Sam Sparro, appears as a dance mix of an R&B track, with the smooth vocals combining perfectly with the catchy background to create something bleeding commercial appeal. Which is exactly what "My Turn" doesn't have. As much as I commend Lightspeed Champion's Dev Hynes for trying his hand at pop, his damaged, unavoidably indie voice is ill-suited for the venture, and it sounds more awkward than anything. Luckily, "A Possibility" jumps in with Amp Fiddler, as the least pop-oriented song on the album, but arguably one of its best offerings. Allowing a doo-woppy love ballad to overtake the track's opening electronic dissonance, it's a highly-listenable and enjoyable one. Same goes for the last truly interesting song on the record, "Twerk." Jacking the tempo back up, it's a pure techno club hit, with bumping synths and an auto-tuned sampling of Michael Sembello's "Maniac."
And then Yoko Ono shows up. "Day of the Sunflowers (March On)" is a peppy, yet militant march, the likes of which could have been covered by any other female artist, yet it was Ono whose presence was deemed necessary, simply for the novelty of it all. The unnecessary contributions will continue until the end, too. "What's A Girl Gotta Do" is goofy girl pop, the likes of which one may have assumed would be beneath this record at its onset. "Stay Close" is a lackluster and uneventful attempt at electronic soul. "Distractionz" would be more tolerable if it wasn't five minutes long. The dark and brooding tribal instrumentation has a shot at working, but by interspersing it with overcompensating vocal and sound effects, you grow tired of the whole act fairly quickly. And finally, there's "Gimme Somethin' True." The album's last chance to save itself falls on its face by combining what sounds like psuedo-jazz, playing off electronic noise and Carlos Santana-style guitars. Overall, there's much to be desired.
For an album that starts off so incredibly well, Scars does a stunning job at burying itself so rapidly. There are definitely some winners on the album-- enough, maybe, to legitimize its purchase. However, when evaluating the effort as a whole, there are just too many holes in the formula to look past. The fact that the last five tracks on the album are all of the must-miss variety, combined with other unfortunate missteps, is enough to level the entire effort as a whole. I'll choose to look at it a bit more objectively than a failure, but you can't help but finish Scars with disappointment. Similarities, for those still reading along with us, include The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Simian Mobile Disco.
Best Track: "Raindrops"
[Previously on Animal Noises: Tuesday's Releases (9/29): Now Streaming]