The Streets meets The Music for an indie-rap-disco-pop-electronica crossover
What happens when the former frontman of a middling indie band no-one has cared about since 2005 and a rapper who created the sonic blueprint for a generation hook up to make an album? Well, according to an interview given by The Music’s Rob Harvey and The Streets’ Mike Skinner, you get music that sounds “like Elton John”. The jokers.
In fact, the duo – who first worked together on The Streets’ 2011 LP ‘Computers And Blues’ – have made a record full of rap, disco, indie, pop and electronica. There are occasional sound-clashes, such as the percussive bass injections and jarring piano lines on ‘Goes Off’, that take a little time to make any kind of sense. But Skinner’s at the helm, so they always do (see also ‘You Never Asked’). It threatens to be a gentle, inoffensive slope, but such mellowness is countered by the maniacal vocal stamp of eccentric Detroit rap darling Danny Brown, who adds pulsating, frenetic energy.
Brown is one of two guest vocalists on the song (electro-popper Claire Maguire also has a cameo), but on most of ‘And That’ Skinner shares singing duties with Harvey. He’s previously talked up a desire to spend his post-Streets existence twiddling knobs and tweaking levels, but ‘Weapon Of Choice’ opens with the 33-year-old’s vulnerable simper, before transforming into glittery disco, then descending into a bass-heavy breakdown. The vocal is thrilling and the drop is brave. A huge Example-via-Skrillex moment isn’t what you expect from a man whose career is built on a love of UK garage.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is the rejuvenation of Robert Harvey. Never known for his lyrical prowess in the now-defunct The Music (“The people! The people! The people!”), his meditations on human relationships feel grand when given room to breathe by Skinner’s upbeat, weightless production. “I really wanna know what drives you/What you living for/Just today?” he wails on ‘What You Living For?’ over heavy but subtle drum’n’bass. “I just want people to know I was here”. You can almost picture the poor bugger wandering around a shopping centre trying to focus his thoughts.
The odd song drifts into self-parody, like Skinner’s choirboy falsetto on ‘Shut Up And Keep Talking’ or the overly decadent guitar solo in ‘Right Side Of Madness’. And occasionally these indulgences, crossed with Harvey’s northern drawl and bursts of EDM hurled into the middle of the songs, sound like an unedited, garbled mess. But get to know ‘And That’, and everything shifts from teetering on the brink of complete failure to sounding lovingly constructed. Skinner’s always known how far to push a track before it sounds like a joke, and everything on The D.O.T’s debut is pushed to that limit. It works.