Sunday, May 1, 2016

Album Review: Massive Attack - Ritual Spirit EP (2016)

There’s been five full-length studio albums, five remix albums, while 2016’s Ritual Spirit is, rather symmetrically, EP number five for Massive Attack.

The group has long been considered the leading purveyor of that bastardised genre frequently referred to as “trip hop”. You could say the original Wild Bunch/Massive crew defined the sub-genre with the critically-acclaimed Blue Lines album back in 1991. According to the evidence offered on Ritual Spirit, it’s a path Massive Attack continues to traverse today, and its heady concoction of hip hop, electronica, and funk remains as innovative as ever.

Neneh Cherry, Shara Nelson, Tracey Thorn, and Horace Andy are just a few of the more high profile names to have worked with the group over the past quarter of a century, and that longstanding commitment to musical collaboration continues on Ritual Spirit.

While the core input comes from Wild Bunch originals Robert Del Naja (“3D”) and Grant Marshall (“Daddy G”), there’s a real sense of déjà vu when Tricky (aka Adrian Thaws) returns for the first time in yonks on EP closer ‘Take It There’.

Similarly, Ninja Tune veteran Roots Manuva, arguably the UK’s most consistent or reliable go-to rapper across two full decades, appears on opener ‘Dead Editors’, while relative newcomers Azekel (on the title track) and Young Fathers (on ‘Voodoo In My Blood’) round out the guest co-conspirators this time out.

The latter being a rather unique and rarely spotted thing – a Mercury Prize-winning hip hop trio from Edinburgh.

Thematically and musically, Ritual Spirit is no great departure from what we’ve come to expect – an electro/hip hop vibe which fair drips with paranoia and angst. It’s dark and dense. Creepy and bit chilling. Close and claustrophobic. Yet not to the point of becoming unlistenable or at the expense of any of its natural groove.

It’s a trippy contrast in forms and shapes, and one that might have been better reconciled with a softer vocal presence on occasion. A Shara Nelson or a Horace Andy, say. Just to remove its harshest edge. Or something else to give it the lightness of touch it perhaps otherwise lacks.

Or maybe not. That’s picky. And a bit too nostalgic. The bar’s always been set fairly high for Massive Attack, and the truth is that while Ritual Spirit might not be perfect, by 2016 standards, it stacks up pretty well.

Here’s the title track, featuring Azekel:

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