New Flesh : Understanding

New name leads to better record. Excellent!...

Can this really be the same New Flesh who emerged in 1999 with ‘Equilibrium’, a surly, paranoid dirge of an album that ushered this sour-faced young northern hip-hop crew onto the UK scene? We ask because ‘Understanding’ is a terrific record, the kind of cocksure exercise in plunderphonics and cosmic verbal dexterity that gets Mercury Prize judges salivating at the prospect of its bongloads of influences, distilled to dirty perfection across 13 tracks.

That it bears little resemblance to its predecessor is echoed in the truncation of the group’s moniker, which used to be New Flesh For Old. Clearly, at some point during the last two years, producer Part 2 and rappers Juice Aleem and Toastie Tailor experienced a collective epiphany. For like labelmate Roots Manuva, who appears here as the dandified wordsmith Cecil Pimpernel, New Flesh are today hip-hop in attitude only, preferring to lace their toxic emissions with irreverent observations, coolly remixing their own hectic environment so that the final result mutates elements of LFO-era rave, electro, klaxon-riddled soca, digital soul and stone cold funk into a cohesive whole.

Opearating for much of ‘Understanding’ as a production unit, New Flesh‘s alien backdrops inspire excellent performances from guests such as Anti-Pop‘s Beans (on ‘Move Slow’), Blackalicious‘ rhyme king Gift Of Gab (‘Communicate’) and, on ‘His-Stories Crockery’ and ‘Mack Facts’, aged NYC graffiti legend Ramm:Ell:Zee. Yet alone, Juice and Toastie conjure potent imagery, chatting fiercely over percolated synths and spluttering rhythms on ‘More Fire’ and ‘Stick & Move’, or countering Gwen Esty’s ecstatic hollering on pared-down torch song ‘Transition’.

Kaleidoscopic in range without ever losing sight of its roots, ‘Understanding’ is a confident, crazed album, thick with energy and ideas. New Flesh, for it is that same band, welcome back.

Piers Martin