Monday, 28 February 2011

Album Review: Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx - We're New Here

Most remix albums are cheap cash-ins by record labels attempting to tempt hardcore fans, but in the case of We're New Here, Jamie xx (percussionist and producer of the xx) has remixed Gil Scott-Heron's I'm New Here into a entirely new album. It makes logical sense: after all, much dubstep is R 'n' B vocals over electronic beats. What could go wrong?

Jamie xx's work is a strange beast: drawing equally on the minimalist dubstep of the likes of Burial and the commercial, drop-heavy stuff you'd find in Cosmic Ballroom. In the case of work within the xx it works to complement the frantic stillness of the songs, but in the case of We're New Here the listener is unsure whether to be nodding their head or swinging their hands in the air.

The problem is shown best on "NY Is Killing Me". In its vanilla (Jamie-free) form, it's a dark, sparse tune with cool hand-clapping percussion, but in the remix strips away most of this, replacing the delicate arrangement with obnoxious bouncing synths and squeaky voices.

In fact, Jamie xx is at his best when working from a relatively blank slate. 'Running' is transformed a short spoken-word piece with quiet drumming in the background to a almost-danceable electronic track, and closing track 'I'll Take Care of U' is given an xx makeover with reverb-heavy guitars and four on the floor.

When he attempts to swerve to quieter points in the album, however, Jamie falls flat on his face. 'My Cloud' may contain fashionable pitch-shifting synths but it goes nowhere - the result neither intimate nor large.

The biggest problem here is that Jamie xx isn't a great DJ. Though a fair effort, We're New Here fails to add anything to Gil Scott-Heron's excellent album beyond a few dubstep clichés and some nice beats - but in a scene overrun with great music, both commercial and less so, the album fails to stand out by anything but a recognisable name.

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