Kosheen may have been offline since 2007, but it’s still a wonder they’ve had time to squeeze in a new album. While producers Markee and Darren have been gallivanting around the world in a series of live nights and side projects, singer Sian Evans has, among other things, guested on DJ Fresh‘s Louder, making hers the most recognisable belting across the dancefloors of 2011. Independent is a welcome return to form. Kosheen are part musicians, part audio architects, shaping their mixes with an ear for the aesthetic. A couple of incongruous, atmosphere-impeding blips aside, this is a solid album from a band who’ve got at least another four albums in them yet.
Kosheen make much of the fact that the vocals are not often the main event in their music. Opener Addict is no exception, the subtle threat of bass the centrepiece around which everything else is arranged. Meanwhile, on trippy, spiralling Enter, Sian Evans’s murmuring is very much a backdrop to the percussive synths. Even the balance of the mixer is used as an aesthetic device – the Dungeon mix of You Don’t Own Me comes complete with beats that rapidly pan like firecrackers whizzing off into the distance.
That’s not to say that they can’t turn on the single material when needed. Get A New One has just the right level of bounciness in the bass, creating a springy texture that would make Mary Berry lick her lips. This record is proof, if ever any was needed, that high camp can be cool. Elsewhere, Bella Donna’s squelchy synths over swung bass gives a Goldfrappish, catwalk quality, while Manic is a perfectly-balanced pop record – imagine if Little Boots grew into more sensible footwear.
The range of moods that Independent tracks through is impressively kaleidoscopic. Tightly is airy, light and optimistic, but all that positive affect has evaporated by the time Dependency erupts. The percussion leaves you feeling like you’re in the middle of a blender, while multiple alarms go off as the threatening bass snarls into focus.
Yet Kosheen need to be careful – the atmosphere is nearly ruined on several occasions by ill-chosen texture. Dependency’s threat is almost undone by a middle section of calm, airy synths that would have done better staying put on Tightly, without encroaching on other tracks and threatening to make the album ‘samey.’ Meanwhile the cheesy guitars on Waste are a little too Geri Halliwell to fit the rest of the track, whose stabbing bass and grinding lead is simply delicious. And Zone 8 is the closest the album gets to a dud – it’s atmospheric enough, but feels a little too like the backdrop to something else, rather than a record in its own right.
Yet despite these niggling worries, Independent is a great record – produced by artists who have returned to the top of their game. Indeed, a couple of ill-judged mixing decisions are only noticeable at all because the rest of the album is so judicious in production. Kosheen aren’t just a dance outfit – they are audio artists, and Independent is a masterstroke.