Egyptian Hip Hop – ‘Good Don’t Sleep’

After years of trying, the Manc quartet finally release a debut album full of wonky pop

In 2009, Manchester’s Egyptian Hip Hop were supposed to be the stars of a genre NME invented called ‘doss-wave’. Nick, Louis, Alex H and Alex P’s music was scuzzy. They were 17, awkward, wore shellsuits, had big hair, and their live shows were unpredictable but a lot of fun. Their song ‘Rad Pitt’, with its fluorescent scratches, beats and rhymes, was a perfect accompaniment to a time when The Hype Machine, MySpace and Skins were still cool.

By the time they released debut EP ‘Some Reptiles Grew Wings’ in 2010, Scottish dance music wünderkid Hudson Mohawke had been brought in on production. Its four tracks were chiptune meets prog rock, and their look had developed too. Out went the shellsuits and the big hair. In came the hipster-friendly videos for singles ‘Middle Name Period’ and ‘Moon Crooner’, which featured the band mucking about with various psychedelic face-manipulating techniques. They looked and sounded like obvious heirs to the futuristic guitar-pop of Klaxons and Late Of The Pier.

Then, they failed to release an album. Singer Alex Hewett toured with Australian psych-freak Connan Mockasin and Anglo-French singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. Drummer Alex Pierce, guitarist Nick Delap and bassist Louis Stevenson-Miller worked on their own projects or, like, dicked about.

In November 2011 they revealed on Twitter that they’d finally finished their debut. But buzz waits for no-one and EHH’s record label dropped them for taking too long. Eventually, in August 2012, they announced the album would come out on R&S, an independent label that’s a powerhouse of daring new sounds such as James Blake’s experiments as Harmonimix, the haze of Vondelpark and Pariah’s creeping minimalism. It seemed a good fit.

As a result of all this, ‘Good Don’t Sleep’ is as on-point as possible to the sound of 2012: the psychedelic experiments of The Horrors and Tame Impala melted into the Zelda-worshipping sound of Rustie’s ‘Glass Swords’. It begins with ‘Tobago’, and a series of beeps and fizzes that groove and whub. It’s disorientating stuff. The album’s second single, ‘Yoro Diallo’, takes inspiration from a Malian musician known for his tangled guitar playing, who the band found out about on a blog. It’s a cheeky nod rather than a rip-off though, as the pattering beat morphs around Hewett’s breathy vocals: “In between words, empty spaces”, he sighs, “it’s on my mind”. ‘Strange Vale’ follows, and starts with a slow disco chug, full of slithering tones, gloomy breakdowns and grating noise, while lead single ‘SYH’ is a more straightforward take on dance-pop. If everything on ‘Good Don’t Sleep’ was as good as this, it’d be Album Of The Year and top of the charts. As Alex Hewett recently explained in NME, “We’re not like anti-pop or anything.” They’re not anti-pop, they’re purveyors of pop.

But there are problems with ‘Good Don’t Sleep’. Only one of the 10 songs is less than four minutes long (clocking in at a breezy three minutes 59 seconds) and the longer ones drag. ‘Snake Lane West’ does nothing but grumble, and at moments it’s like listening to your own stomach churning after a particularly nasty curry. ‘One Eyed King’ (inspired by Björk’s one-time stalker, Ricardo Lopez) is bloated and stodgy, only attempting to do anything in the final minute, when it bursts into a warped chant. The glacial drift of final track ‘Illtoise’ is pleasant, but isn’t the huge sonic punch this album needs.

And that’s the problem with ‘Good Don’t Sleep’. When Egyptian Hip Hop’s experiments in mixing old pop, new pop and the underground work, they really work. When they don’t, they’re hard to listen to. So maybe it’s not such a change from the ‘doss-wave’ days after all. They’re awkward and unpredictable, but fascinating nonetheless. If they ever get round to making a follow-up, they could still be stars of… something.

Siân Rowe