The increasingly lively (and political) Scottish hip hop scene throws up the debut album by Jackal Trades, shockingly good it is too.
Hip hop is perhaps a touch too limiting here: if one must impose a genre upon proceedings, though all 14 tracks on Need The Character(s) do have vocals and groove, the music itself drifts in and around atmospheric electronica as much as beats: a real evocation of the urban environment.
That much is evident as early as the absolute peach of a second track, ‘Triangular Trades’ – there certainly is a beautifully sleazy and laconic drum loop – not a million miles away from Madonna’s on ‘Justify My Love’, aka ‘Security Of The First World’ by Public Enemy – but the real action is the brooding twangs and dark sounds orbiting the goings on.
Deliciously growling stuff and pretty much faultless: one to be played on malevolent repeat.
Curiously, although the feeling, power and passion of the lyrics is without a doubt, they are generally, perhaps, the weak point – if there is one – across the album as a whole; purely due to the lack of originality.
Perhaps that is unfair as 90% of pop music lyricists drone on about failed love affairs after all, but, the subject matter(s) here – austerity, society, sociology, politics etc – are nothing one will not come across in any number of political forums with varying degrees of conspiratorial flavour: fine enough but a little wearisome at times: nothing hugely new, however dextrously it is spat out.
Works for Adam Curtis (who makes a sampled appearance here) right enough.
That reflection of personal taste shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow what is an excellent record, however: indeed, working in this milieu, Jackal Trades are by far the most expertly put together and produced outfit in Scotland at the moment; it’s classy, powerful and very very slick indeed.
It’s hard to know whether to refer to Jackal Trades in the singular or plural – although very much the project of McG (also frontman of Girobabies) there are collaborations ahoy – production duties from Scatabrainz and Soundthief amongst others and some delicious vocals from Ella Maby of Delighted Peoples; whatever the structure is, it’s produced a truly remarkable project.
Need The Character(s) is accessible and musically seductive whilst also having some grit – great combination and certainly one that merits commercial success up, over and beyond the niche from which it emerges.
That perhaps is the challenge here – how to get this out there and heard on a national and international stage: Scotland may have an outstanding record in house and techno, but hip hop is currently a tougher proposition, unfairly.
But for timing, this could well be the best Scottish album of the year: it’s certainly top five anyway and thrilling from the get the go: hop in, you will not be disappointed.
Words: Vosne Malconsorts