I’d never heard of…but they were awesome!
Sometimes, when I was younger, I used to love to walk into a record store and find something I had never heard of, buy it, and hope that it was amazing. This could lead to some fairly hit and miss outings. I quickly found that The Charlatans were not to my taste, but that Mogwai were fantastic. Of course, musical taste is idiosyncratic, so feel free to disagree.
Among other things, the digital age and the proliferation of YouTube (self-)promotion has meant that the ability to do this kind of thing has diminished. Why would you go and randomly buy a CD or (wowsers) an LP when you can get it (all but) free on the internet? Why not listen to everything first, then spend your money if you like it.
But, after a recent solo trip to New York, CIA brought back for me a slim, velvety case, with embossed gold lettering. The Sub Pop label had me thinking of Fleet Foxes, so imagine my surprise when Shabazz Palaces oozed bass-y goodness out of the speakers. The song construction felt well-crafted but with a hefty dose of the haphazard (no verse-chorus-verse here) and had me hooked almost from the first minute. The heady drift into gamelan instrumentation was (and is) a wonderful and unexpected punctuation from the dull thud of the beats. You can hear the whole glorious thing here:
“Every track is lean and muscular, never losing sight of the fact that hip-hop should move forward.”
I completely agree with the first half (lean and muscular music is just an irresistible image for me); I am probably not qualified to remark on the second part. Nevertheless, the Guardian informed me that, upon hearing Shabazz Palaces for the first time the ex-General Manager of Sub Pop said that it was a little like hearing Nirvana for the first time. If I knew that before I listened, I would have been even more sold!
This is Sub Pop’s first hip hop outing, but it feels more interesting than that. “Yeah You” descends into a kind of impromptu jazz jam, at other times the album melts into a kind of electronic fuzz that makes the room feel small, dark, warm and comforting. I haven’t yet played it through headphones, but I am really looking forward to it.
Writing about music is, for me, a difficult thing to do. Comparisons between artists often feel strained, adjectives feel inadequate, and the medium feels much more subjective to me than writing or painting, the rules of which are much clearer to me. But I love Shabazz Palaces, and I am so happy to have had a chance to hear them sight unseen, and sound unheard.