Album review: Magnetic Man – Magnetic Man (Columbia)

Sell-outs? Get off your high blog, grandad. Dubstep's architects are giving bass music back to the kids

To their champions who saw them perform in a 50,000-volt battle cage at this summer’s festivals they’re a superhuman supergroup who will free dubstep from the basement of Plastic People. To the ketamine-addled future-dub purists, they’re scabs crossing the picket line from anonymity to ubiquity. And to those who couldn’t be doing with this sort of racket in the first place they are, as one member of the NME team put it, “shit ’90s drum’n’bass”.

There’s a noticeable generation gap between these perspectives which is worth bearing in mind when listening to [a]Magnetic Man[/a]’s eponymous debut. Not that this is music for children – far from it – but while most of the acclaimed albums of the past year ([a]Wild Beasts[/a], [a]The xx[/a], [a]LCD Soundsystem[/a]) have been embraced by 30-somethings who enter Radcliffe and Maconie Radio 2 competitions, [a]Magnetic Man[/a] have made a concerted effort to win back Britain’s youth.

So while some of the more accessible instrumentals on here, like the arms-in-the-air ‘Anthemic’, might not be much more than a techno synth riff with the BPM halved and a squelchy bassline chucked on, that’s no bad thing. For the first time since mascara-caked sixth-formers flocked to [a]Horrors[/a] gigs, hordes of young people are enthralled by a sound they can call their own.

But the promise of this group was more than a few extra tracks to add to the great Ministry Of Sound compilation in the sky. In a story that started with Burial’s midnight excursions across tribal London, travelled via Benga’s descent into nightlife, and recently veered in the unlikely direction of James Blake’s urbane urban, dubstep has proved to be a darkly expressive form. How do [a]Magnetic Man[/a] deliver on taking it somewhere new?

In places they don’t, they send it shooting back to the mildewy stained-sheet bedrooms from whence it came. ‘Ping Pong’ does little more than that, for six and half minutes that we’ll never get back. ‘Fire’, on which Ms Dynamite guests, sounds like an amateur freshers’ week DJ has got their one ‘urban’ friend to MC.

More promising are the tracks where they try new things. From the acoustic instrumental opener ‘Flying Into Tokyo’, which is about as far from dubstep or dance as you could get, to the lushly orchestrated ‘Karma Crazy’ and jittery blip rythyms of ‘K Dance’, there’s a surprising level of experimentation. Although it sometimes seems a little unfinished, it proves there’s more to these EQ twiddlers than VURVURVURVURVU-RRRRRR basslines.

Where this album really fulfils its potential though, is when they stop dicking about. John Legend’s soulful turn ‘Almost There’ sounds like the follow-up to ‘Crazy’ that [a]Gnarls Barkley[/a] never managed. ‘Mad’ is dubstep’s ‘Just’, a speaker-destroying three and a half minutes which would sound like showing off if it wasn’t so good. But the two tracks featuring funky vocalist Katy B stand skyscrapers above the rest: ‘Perfect Stranger’, with its teasing lust-at-first-sight tale of locked eyes, and ‘Crossover’, a fearlessly modern take on the love song. Both are packed with grinning flutters of romantic realism that manage to avoid the banalities about attraction that fill just about every other dance song.

That’s not enough to make this a record that will change history – but it should reset the clock. The year is 2010, and at its best this album is a glistening encapsulation of what that means. This a forward-thinking, original British album that has captivated a new generation of music fans, not simply by rehashing the old, but by giving the young something that belongs to them and taunting them to do better. That’s not to be sniffed at.

Sam Wolfson

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‘Magnetic Man’ from Rough Trade Shops.

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