“Heligoland” – ‘Massive Attack’
I’ve been regularly tracking the blog since its infancy early last year, and with my dutiful arrival and procession of albums and reviews, there has been a definite, steady increase of overall coverage throughout the net. Through sites like last.fm and Facebook – among others – we’ve also managed to draw attention indirectly through journal listings replete with links and encouragement towards the artists and their music: implementing Highly Evolved rather as a medium, a means to an end, to achieve this goal. Results have been spectacular.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that we adamantly aspire to become reviewing legends [you can never aim too high], the weeks have come and gone and the mercury sits at a comfortable 200+ hits a day. And, strangely, the same peaks and troughs that littered out statistics when reviews were coming out left, right and centre during the final months of ’09, remain diligently set; I can only suspect that people are returning back to the site for more, because, uncharacteristically, our Home Page seems to be having more views than usual lately. Expectantly, hits peak over the weekend and sit casually lower during the weekdays – it seems everyone remembers I post reviews on Fridays and Sundays, although that time slot has flown out the window.
Onwards: music news seems such a trivial subject, minor bands pale in comparison to trip-hop pioneers, ‘Massive Attack’, and their recent release, “Heligoland”. Fans like myself are sure to be entertained with a myriad of ‘Massive’s…’ hypnotic-percussion overtures and ghostly-ethereal vocalisations. Standards remain high, and although by no means does “Heligoland” rival “Mezzanine”, it continues to set that bar even higher with the trip-hop genre in general.
In July of ’09, I reviewed a self-titled début by a band called ‘We Fell To Earth’, in the style of trip-hop. Though, by no means do they contend – or stand a chance – with ‘Massive Attack’, the post remains an interesting, despite a somewhat bastardised discussion, on the fundamental elements of trip-hop and what it takes for such a band to wield this instrument. It is as powerful as it is dangerous, an acquired taste, combining the characteristics of hip-hop and synthesised music to form a double-edged sword that can kill in more ways than one. Despite this allegorical representation of its elegantly-complex figure, I admire the outcome, yet abhor the basic principles of its creation, its grass-roots, and standpoint within the musical spectrum. Just the same, music of this calibre is hard to come by, so I have to enjoy it while it lasts…
I present “Heligoland”, featuring guest appearances from ‘Tunde Adebimpe’ – whom ‘TV On The Radio’ fans will recognise immediately – ‘Martina Topley-Bird’, who featured predominantly in trip-hop artist ‘Tricky’s’ work, ‘Horace Andy’ reggae-artist/singer-songwriter, with ‘Guy Garvey’ of the band ‘Elbow’, and ‘Damon Albarn’: frontman and primary songwriter for the britpop group ‘Blur’. These artists help distinguish tracks throughout the album, underlining some with great emphasis, while leaving others with a weaker execution. Fans can expect some tracks by the favourites, but predominantly, “Heligoland” is a somewhat mongrelisation of varying artists, compiled together despite many differing qualities and strengths. Although I greatly enjoy guest appearances from ‘Tunde Adebimpe’, and ‘Martina Topley-Bird’, I find that ‘Damon Albarn’s’ contribution remains a chink in the armour [maybe because of his affiliations with britpop, I’ve come to realise?] With my earlier opinions of “Mezzanine”, among other ‘Massive Attack’ albums, I believe that their unique trip-hop perspective favours deep baritones, while I find that tenors or equivalents, struggle somewhat. This is perhaps magnified with ‘Massive’s…’ fixation with subsonic synth among the various percussion influences taking place.
At just under an hour, “Heligoland’s” tracks float around the five-minute mark, with a total of ten. Nothing finishes below two, so listeners can expect full-fledged songs without ephemerals, transitions, or instrumentals. With each track somewhat self-contained, there is no definitive beginning or end, so I suppose this makes for seamless listening. “Heligoland” can best be measured next to one of its sister albums, “Mezzanine”, with strong, emphatic vocalisations, heart-felt lyrics, and a decent mixture of fantastical-elements which are at the core of ‘Massive Attack’ itself. Expect the constant exploitation of percussion; generally tracks have a fixed beat, while leading synthesised partners differ from track to track. As can be expected, not all tracks have the same potency as others, but on-the-whole, “Heligoland” remains an acquired taste like “Mezzanine”, and should, after a few playthroughs, grow on you.
Track-specifics: and I’ll draw your attention to the opener for “Heligoland”, which is perhaps the most powerful – and, I think, current, track. Meet the love-child of “Angel” and “Inertia Creeps”, from “Mezzanine”, and to make this love-triangle that much more believable: “Family Tree”, from ‘Tunde Adebimpe’s’ main band, ‘TV On The Radio”, and album, “Dear Science”. I give you “Pray For Rain”. Vocalisation of lyrics is clean, audible, and their poignancy is what I would expect from ‘Adebimpe’s’ repertoire. Perhaps more-so for Australian listeners rather than overseas, or in some cases, interstate, “Pray For Rain” features some very reflective lyrics of our country’s current water crisis, and the inability of our people to do something feasible about it. The consistent use of the phrase:
“… pray for rain…”
… Appears as is to be expected, but its accompaniment with sentences like:
“… And their necks crane, as they turn to pray for rain…”
“… A shattered cloud of swirling doves…”
… Still have me in awe of this songs overall construction.
“… Drops on rocks fall fast and fleeting…”
Is perhaps my favourite sentence. Together with this, a very strong, sombre piano – which also featured excessively in ‘TV On The Radio’s’ “Family Tree”. Where “Angel” and “Inertia Creeps” come in is the reinforcing percussion which exacerbates this tracks dramatisation, making it all that much better. Absolutely fantastic in my opinion…
I’ll break away from “Pray For Rain” – I could literally do an entire review on the track itself, but I’ll restrain myself. “Babel” featuring ‘Martina Topley-Birb’, follows, and unlike its predecessor, vocals are at a higher octave: although not as memorable as “Pray For Rain”, and interesting track nonetheless.
“Splitting The Atom”, featuring ‘Horace Andy’ is another powerful track that utilises those characteristic subsonic synth-beats running parallel a deep baritone voice: with the arrival of ‘Andy’, there’s some nice juxtaposition between high and soft. The up-down attitude of beat is slow and steady, so it’s not hard to like this track either. Following this, “Girl I Love You”, and it isn’t as deeply emphasised; and yet ‘Andy’s’ contribution to it gives it the qualities of a masculine “Teardrop”, or distant “Inertia Creeps”. Even so, not as likeable however.
So! Track-wise I’ll stop there. “Heligoland” is overall a general success – I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it, and will continue to. It’s a definite must-buy for any true fan, though it’s best heard loud and alone I suppose. Perfect for an amplifier/speaker set-up, preferably with a sub-woofer for those extra inaudibles; when the air feels fuzzy and the ground begins to shake, you’re at the right amplitude. ‘Massive Attack’ never fails to deliver, and despite trip-hop being a touch-and-go genre, it’s worth a look now and then, especially if you can find someone to rival these geniuses.
[NEW!] Reviewer’s pick: “Pray For Rain”
Stand-out Tracks: “Pray For Rain”, “Babel”, “Splitting The Atom”, “Girl I Love You”, “Psyche”
The Enantiomorphic God