By Paul Ballard
Released August 22nd, 2014 - Atlantic Jaxx Recordings
So, I finally finished my Basement Jaxx review. Not that you knew I was writing one, but under the circumstances I feel the need to somehow exonerate myself seeing as the album has now actually been released for two months.
To be brutally honest, on first taste back in a somewhat wintery August I wasn't really that taken by it. However, instead of being 'that guy' and banishing it straight to the bargain bins, I remembered that sometimes a fresh listen and some sunshine can make for a slightly more informed decision on things. Well, that's the theory anyway. Coupled with the fact that they will undoubtedly play on our shores at some point over the coming Summer, it's only right that my review of their latest offering Junto is given the light of day. Consider it a dedication to those who, like me, are still on the fence about whether to purchase it.
A smouldering voice over African drums starts the proceedings: "Lords, Ladies and Lowlives - Welcome to the world of Basement Jaxx", as if they needed an introduction. Or perhaps they do? This British electronic dance duo, aka Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, haven't really been on my radar since their 2003 stormerKish Kash. With the dark noodlings of 2009's Scars not really leaving a mark and two further film scores plus an orchestral album now under their belt, I wasn't aware that they were still aiming for the dancefloor.
What is very clear is that for this seventh album, they have finally left the confines of the XL stable in search of something much more vibrant - and it shows. Now working with [PIAS] Australia via their own long-running Atlantic Jaxx venture, they present a much more upbeat assembly. No Big-Name Stars, just a collection of songs featuring walk-on vocals "from singers they met in the carpark of their studio".
Of the twelve tracks on offer here, some really shine. The very obvious single Never Say Never Again has been going great guns on the radio circuit and is a standout. ETML's blissful vocals over disco'd house (although sounding remarkably like Womack & Womack's Teardrops) is a real belter. Another winner is the funkadelic vibes of Summer Dem featuring the brilliant Patricia Panther on vocal duty. This soulful beauty drops things down a few paces with the grinding bassline, knocks things sideways for the middle eight, before finishing right side up again back on the beach. I can already feel the sand between my toes.
There are also some tell-tale notes in session here: We Are Not Alone adds a suitable bounce to proceedings over a wobbling bass, but it's that subtle pinch of erratic that the Jaxx are so well known for that really sets it apart. Although contrived in places, its digitised lyrics over the string stabs pull it through. Same goes for the glitchy Sneakin' Toronto with its battling rappers and mad laughing sample, or the haunting Something About You, which offers some great contrasts among eerie musical boxes.
Another of the more engaging tracks on the album is Buffalo which is a whirlwind of a tune. Featuring transgender rapper Mykki Blanco, it transgresses between footwork and jungle like a possessed fairground ride. Standing head and shoulders above the other 'fairy-light' tracks on the album, at only a mere 2.28 mins, it left me a-begging. I likened it to a friend who turns up at a party, gets everyone dancing, then disappears back into the night. This was the first real evidence of a change in style from the Jaxx camp. It will be interesting to see if the boys decide to pursue this one further.
Apart from the standouts, the rest of the album is pretty much peppered with predicti-house plastic.
Power To The People takes us back to the Jaxx Carnival again, but even the latin drums can't save it from ending up sounding more like a sickly side show: "come with me into the rainbow"? I'd rather not, thanks; I was also not tempted by Unicorn, as it took me back to 1995, but not in a good way. The lyrics "lose yourself with me, rewrite history" could not be any further from the truth in this rave-twee nightmare; even the familiar flamenco guitars of their 1999 hit Rendez-vous make an appearance for Mermaid Of Salanis, but unfortunately it ends up sounding more parody than party.
It seems clear that this time around, the Jaxx boys were wanting to keep things light and poppy, but in all fairness those tunes tended to annoy rather than excite compared to those that possessed a darker, more distinctive edge.
A few snatches of brilliance in an otherwise faceless, unnoteworthy album.
2.5 / 5