Clean Bandit – New Eyes
Way back in April 2013 I reviewed a song by an unknown band called ‘Clean Bandit’, giving the experimental ‘Mozart’s House’ 7 out of 10 and enjoying the fresh sound and something different offered by the mixing of electronic, rap and classical.
Over twelve months on and Clean Bandit are no longer unknown. With a number one under their belt they’ve now released their debut album ‘New Eyes’, an enjoyable fusion of many genres that will win you over over its 50 minutes. Featuring a guest artist per track which gives it a Basement Jaxx-level of freshness with different voices, it keeps your interest and the production is solid throughout, though ‘New Eyes’ breaks the cardinal rule of albums in my opinion: the first five tracks are the singles. I don’t like that, but I digress…
Opening with that first track I heard – ‘Mozart’s House’ – it’s an unusual opening to an album but one whose spoken intro will sum up what is heard. In fact, this is perhaps the black sheep of the disc, sounding pretty different to what you get elsewhere. The rap-style from Love Ssega with the ‘skip a beat’ hook alongside the sample of Mozart make this track and it’s still my favourite piece on the album, an example of what the Cambridge electronic band can do with different styles. It won’t be for everyone – it’s very eccentric and scattergun even a year on – but it’s a solid introduction to the group’s style and shows that music from over 200 years ago can work with more modern sounds.
The most recent single ‘Extraordinary’ featuring Sharna Bass follows and though it’s much more conventional and chart-friendly than the opener, the mix of pop and classical is still present, and the chorus is much more singable which will please the crowd after something more Radio 1 than XFM. Bass’ voice is sweet and very listenable and though it’s not the most original track on the album, especially in the wake of the opening, it’s very good.
Track three and single three ‘Dust Clears’ feels more like the Clean Bandit you expect, the autotuned vocals of Noonie Bao giving the track a downbeat, gloomier feel but there’s a great juxtaposition when the female-led vocals come in, giving it a smoother call-and-response feel. It’s a very low-key track compared to the openers, but this is one of the strongest, best written pieces on the album, and the fusion with classical once more fits in well, especially as the riff adapts through the piece across a variety of instruments.
Their number one ‘Rather Be’ comes next and though it’s a pretty conventional love-song lyrically, it’s another song that embraces the more poppier radio-friendly side of their sound but Jess Glynne’s sweet vocals carry the song and you can hear how it became a number one thanks to its singable chorus and strong classical riff. Though destined to annoy listeners with its blips and bloops that sound like Facebook messenger, this pulls together lots of elements to make a great track.
Debut single ‘A+E’, which passed me by on first release, features Kandaka Moore and Nikki Cislyn on vocal duties and wears its classical vibe more on its sleeve with its string-based opening. Sounding closer to the opener, the electronic-and-rap vibe with a Caribbean feel continues the happy, summer-feel that the album mostly portrays and though it’s the weakest of the five singles, the mid-tempo pace, marching drum beat and electronic style are fun enough.
Onto the fresh tracks, and ‘Come Over’ featuring Stylo G, sees a shift of genre again though keeping with the Caribbean feel. Sounding like a song you’d expect from Sean Paul or perhaps Shaggy, there are shades of ‘Dust Clears’ here with the autotuned female vocals. The stuttering vocals, the ‘You bring the sunshine’ hook and the, once more, mix of styles work in the songs favour, and it stands up above ‘A&E’.
‘Cologne’ sees Nikki Cislyn team up with Javeon and keeps the fast-paced mix up going and though lacking the stand out hooks of some of the familiar singles, is a great tune. Love Ssega returns on the unusually titled ‘Telephone Banking’ as he speaks to band member Grace Chatto and is the next stand-out number on the album, the conversation-based rap simply written but weaves an intriguing story into the classical vibe, combining the everyday with the special.
‘Up Again’ is a slower number featuring Rae Morris and alongside ‘Heart on Fire’ with Elisabeth Troy continue the themes of the album and, though listenable with their own moments, are not the highlights of the piece, though track ten’s titular hook will stick with you.
The album’s title track follows with Lizzo delivering a perky Nicki-Minaj inspired rap mixed in with some off-note autotune that doesn’t quite work as well. The Eliza Shaddad featuring penultimate track ‘Birch’ brings things to an almost close on a sombre note, the dark strings combining with a slow, mournful vocal track. Closer proper, ‘Outro Movement III’, sounds more like the ending level to a video game, but the instrumental wraps things up nearly.
Overall ‘New Eyes’ is a very good listen with an expert mix of electronic, classical, rap, autotuned vocals and video game influences. Naturally with the singles front-loaded the album tails off towards the end due to a lack of familiarity but also having tracks that are less experimental, but the calming conclusion works well, could just do with something more sparky in its concluding moments.
For the deluxe album holders out there, this is a band that actually seems to be doing it properly with five bonus tracks and a special DVD. ‘Rihanna’, with Noonie Bao back on vocals, is actually better than some of the later numbers on the actual album, the child-like xylophone riff and Bao’s very listenable vocals working together to form a bouncy, pop number. ‘UK Shanty’ with its atmospheric vocals is fun enough but feels like a b-side though ‘Nightingale’ with Nikki Cislyn is a much more vibrant number, with its mixture of vocals and tempos sparking things up a little. Weirdly followed straight-away by the same track remixed – Gorgon City have done very little to the track aside from putting a generic dance beat under the song and removing any hints of emotion from it – the bonus selection ends with the Magician Remix of their number one ‘Rather Be’ which again adds very little to the original track, with a few deviations from the original but nothing that makes it any better or worse than the original.
Also with the collection you get a satisfying DVD which includes the videos for all the band’s singles aside from ‘Extraordinary’ plus ‘Telephone Banking’, ‘Shanty’ and ‘Nightingale’, which is a pretty sweet addition to an already generous package.