Saturday, June 10, 2017

Album Review: Coldcut & On-U Sound – Outside the Echo Chamber (2017)

It is, of course, a very logical collaboration – two parts Coldcut, in the form of Matt Black and Jonathan More, and one part On-U Sound, courtesy of Adrian Sherwood. As producers of some of the finest electro and dub music to come out of the UK over the course of the past three decades, these guys are experts in the art of collaboration. They also know a thing or two about sonic possibilities.

In fact, if you removed the output of the Ninja Tune label, of which Black and More were founders, and the On-U Sound imprint (ditto Sherwood) from the rich tapestry of the aforementioned genres, not to mention the wider dance music and roots reggae scenes, you’d be left with an awfully big hole. One the size of several giant speaker stacks, even.

Yet, oddly enough, rather than engage the Ninja or On-U handles on this occasion, the trio have released Outside the Echo Chamber on the Ahead Of Our Time label, which previously served as the vehicle for Black and More’s earliest forays into production.

The collaboration goes well beyond that of the album’s three key protagonists, naturally. Throw in, just for starters, uber producer Lee Scratch Perry, onetime Black Uhuru vocalist Junior Reid, UK hip hop legend Roots Manuva, plus a couple of guys from the industrial dub heavyweight Tackhead; guitarist Skip McDonald (aka Little Axe) and bass player Doug Wimbish … and, well, you start to get an outline sketch of just what Outside the Echo Chamber is all about.

Look out also for the contributions from the comparatively low profile, or youthful, likes of Chezidek, Toddla T, Ce’Cile, Elan, and Rholin X (phew!).

There’s also a brief but nonetheless fascinating excursion into what I can only describe as Bollywood-soul, in the form of ‘Kajra Mohobbat Wala’, courtesy of Hamsika Iyer, the tune being an update of an old Hindu/Urdu love song.

We end up with 16 tracks in total; ten core tracks, plus six dub versions. The highlights of which include the distinctly political roots-drenched Perry/Reid/Elan offering ‘Divide and Rule’, the Roots Manuva-narrated opener, ‘Vitals’, and ‘Metro’, which, rather unusually, skirts around the outer limits of synthpop.

See also: genre-bending, hybrid flavours, immaculate production, all manner of special FX, bottom end, and echo … sugar, spice, and all things nice.

The bottom line is you’ll be hard pressed to find another album released in 2017 with as much emphasis on hybrid dub or big fat slabs of beefy bass.

The whole thing is really quite wonderful.

But, as a longstanding fan of the walks-on-water Adrian Sherwood, and as a long-distance admirer* of the Coldcut boys – I probably would say that, wouldn’t I?

* I don’t have a huge amount of Coldcut work in my collection, but I do have the early Sherwood edit of their ‘Stop This Crazy Thing’ from nearly 30 years ago. And as a certified hip hop-sceptic, I’ll stop short of suggesting that the Coldcut remix of that early masterclass example of rhyme and flow, Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’, is one of the greatest 12-inch singles ever made. But, between us, it just bloody well might be …
Here's 'Divide and Rule':

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