There are precious few UK dance acts that have had the tremendous crossover appeal of Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx. Traversing the fickle venn diagram overlap where Top 40 pop fiends, Tyres-esque rave addicts, beglowsticked partyholics, belligerent tastemakers and festival dilettantes are to be found, they’re acts that everyone knows, and that everyone, at least in some capacity, loves. They’ve become ubiquitous fixtures of any frivolity without sacrificing quality.
The latter of the UK’s dance trifecta, Basement Jaxx, have however been away from the spotlight for a long time – five years to be precise, taking a lengthy and well-deserved break following the release of Scars and Zephyr (both 2009). For their first release this decade, can they retain their unblemished rep? Crucially, do they have anything near as phenomenal as Where’s Your Head At?, Good Luck or Romeo left in their tank?
Their new LP, entitled Junto (Spanish for ‘together’, and no relation to the fair less fun Junta), hoists the Brixton duo into the modern day. They’ve never been confined by trends in pop or any current musical climates, instead opting to mash soul, world music and various degrees of dance/electro noises together in their own idiosyncratic way. While that’s still mostly true, they do err, rather safely, towards the homogeneous gloop known as future-garage and neo-house. It’s all a bit Sam Smith/Disclosure at times, which is fine if you are Sam Smith or Disclosure, but this is Basement Jaxx. We came for the Gatling gun ratatat of D&B congas, disco strings and Lisa Kekaula‘s enigmatic blast, not Rudimental-lite. Given, Jaxx’s take on the en vogue clinical house of late is top notch, but it doesn’t feel like them.
For starters, Kekaula’s nowhere in sight. On Never Say Never (with its cracking – haw haw – video), we have ETML. It’s big, stadium-y and has a lovely R&B vocal line. It swells like dubstep of yesteryear, and bounces like any club track spat out nowadays. Love Is At Your Side sounds like Ásgeir and Duke Dumont are collaborating on a remake of The Lion King, which sounds a lot greater than it is.
It’s not all whitewashed doom and chalky gloom, however. Unicorn has mammoth promise; it seems to hark back to their house roots. It’s considerably less pop than their more famous fare, but wields some of their signature flavours, ensuring it’s a tangy, simple, infectious slab of party touchpaper. What’s The News is classic, pristine Jaxx. Summer Dem follows suit, and could’ve been easily ripped straight from Kish Kash; it bustles with pleasant chaos, being characteristically overstuffed and messy. It’s got the raw, improvised feel that Jaxx found fame with. For Jaxx, less equals less, not less is more – more is more, more or less.
Easily the record’s highlight, Buffalo smooshes together jagged D&B/jungle vibes with grimy rap flows from Mykki Blanco. It’s enormous mayhem, that while sounding markedly futuristic, retains the Jaxx’s sense of disaster. Mermaid Of Salinas is pretty great too, opening with Latin guitar and Carnival beats, and thereafter rattling through the Amazon in search of the legendary party made of gold, El Discorado.
Basement Jaxx’s seventh studio record suffers in some areas, but excels in others. We see them think not just to the leftfield or outside the box, but in 4D, lurching backwards and forwards in time. It’s a lot more ambitious and experimental – more often than not, anyway – than previous releases. When it stumbles, it’s merely fleeting. There’s no doubt that their reputation is intact.