Maybe it is the glorious return of Portishead last year with Third, or it could just be something in the water during these troubled times, but this debut album by the mysterious Bristol-based duo Gee and Scott marks a return to the heady days of the mid-90s when trip-hop was the music du jour.
On the surface at least Ugly Side Of Love shares a lot in common with Tricky‘s debut album Maxinquaye. Hellish reports from the apocalyptic front line are spat out against a backdrop of reggae beats, eerie soul/funk and distorted samples.
Dig a little deeper and you find the influence of post-punk writ large, no surprise really with Segs from The Ruts on board as producer. It’s as if the listener has been spooled back to 1982 and Kirk Brandon is on Top Of The Pops ranting away into the camera while bemused teenyboppers look on in shock.
Warriors is as fine an opening as you could wish for on an album like Ugly Side Of Love. A spooky opening segues into wailing sirens and Gee’s urgent vocals declaiming ‘Where are the warriors? Who are the warriors?’ against a backdrop of scratches and pumping riffs.
Shitkicker is the perfect follow-up. Previously doing the rounds under the title The Battle, the track is a riotous fusion of Spaghetti Western guitars and a funky bassline. If this is the end of the world then it sure as hell sounds good.
The spaced out mellow vibe of Snake Charmer leads directly into the awesome Snowflake. A funky piano line provides the missing link that makes this psych-rock classic truly great, with Gee’s vocals practically bursting out of the speakers.
To their credit Gee and Scott keep the album flowing following this sucker punch. The mood becomes inexorably darker with the manic breakbeats and hallucinatory sampling of Omega Time proving that the lunatics have indeed taken over.
The variety of music on show is breathtaking at times. The psych-rock wig out of Blackbird is followed by the twangy, happy-clappy Moonsurfin, which in turn makes way for the suffocating, intense trip-hop of Only For You. That the latter wouldn’t sound out of place on a Burial album is high praise indeed.
The black heart of this album finds its clearest lyrical expression on Lay Down Stay Down, although Gee’s claim that ‘I won’t be afraid’ rings true and loud. The duo’s belief that humanity will prevail should not be ignored, and it is telling that Another Sun is placed immediately after Lay Down Stay Down in the running order.
The essential dichotomy at the heart of Ugly Side Of Love is reflected in How Long? and Fading World. Urging us to ‘get up’ and ‘hold on to your word’ while mankind breaks apart around us, Gee and Scott are fully aware of the struggle and bring a sobering reality to their prescriptions. Perhaps this is why the closing Simple Song largely dispenses with sense, for what else is there do sometimes but sing a simple song?
Hats off to Gee and Scott for making one of the most impressive debuts of the year. And, if further proof were needed that this is once more Portishead‘s time, kudos to Geoff Barrow for discovering Malakai and releasing the album on his Invada label.