There’s an intriguing mixture of old and new on this fourth album, pointing to a creative drive that makes the case for Neil Barnes’ continuing relevance into the 2020s
On first glance it might seem strange that Leftfield, now the one-man project of Neil Barnes, has built such a legacy off the back of three albums, but the sparse output is key – their contemporaries chugged away into the 2000s and lost all vitality, whereas 2015’s Alternative Light Source was well-judged and worth the wait. This Is What We Do sees Barnes reuniting with some old allies and collaborating with newer artists, and drawing from a grab-bag of electronic styles.
Speaking of Leftfield’s contemporaries, the maximal production of the album’s title track bears more than a passing resemblance to The Chemical Brothers, while the following song Full Way Round, featuring Grian Chatten, presents a surreal but enjoyable vision of Fontaines DC as an electroclash group. Pulse impresses with its flanger-laden breakbeat and a chiming melody dominating the middle section, while the chords and synth lead of closing track Power Of Listening are intricate enough to match Lone’s brand of ravey music theory.
With this type of sonic diversity, it’s perhaps not too surprising that filler rears its head: Machines Like Me seems too pleased with its Kraftwerk pastiche to develop the musical ideas, and Come On attempts a hip-hop banger but there’s something limp about the 808 drum loop, something tinny about the synths that splutter and drone over the top.
Accumulator is the standout track, a pumping tech house cut that whips itself up into a frenzy with a relentless cross-rhythm. This is accompanied by disembodied vocal stabs, tasteful hand drumming and a woozy, distorted ostinato that is simple but devastatingly effective, one of the best club tracks of the year coming from a grizzled veteran.
Though the magic isn’t always present on This Is What We Do, there is still a creative drive that makes the case for Barnes’ continuing relevance into the 2020s.