Album Reviews

Malachai – Beyond Ugly

(Double Six) UK release date: 31 March 2014

Malachai - Beyond Ugly Simian-masked scamps Malachai return with their third (and possibly final) ‘ugly’ themed instalment by Gee Easy (vocals) and DJ Scott Hendy (the rest) after 2009’s Ugly Side Of Love and 2011’s Return To The Ugly Side.

Like those other musical magpies The Beta Band and Kasabian (whose Serge Pizzorno features here), Malachai’s previous works have demonstrated a thing or two about audio plunderings, to pick out the shiniest parts and reassemble into something energised, dusted off and undeniably their own.

Building on their template of experimental electronic samples mixed with psych pop, Beyond Ugly doesn’t see a massive change in style from their wayward ‘looseness’ so much as a developing of their multi-faceted palette. It features an appearance from the man who discovered them, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow.

When the songs come to life with any conviction, it’s invariably with Gee’s primitive howl pushed through to the front as on the strutting gunslinger swagger of opener Sweet Flower. It seems beamed in from a warped dimension of b-movie menace and lyrics that tumble between the sweet losing of the ‘sweet flower’ to Down To Earth like some funkified forgotten gem from The Who with swirling Hammond organ, pummelling drums and slashing fuzz guitar. Similarly, the Bollywood-tinged I Deserve To No grazes the underbelly of some spiralling strings, basement bindi and filtered flute while Gee rasps about media distortion of war.

The phased vocals on Dragon’s Ball make the lyrics practically indecipherable but don’t detract from the excitement of the musical invention here. Tugged along by an insistent bassline, clipped chants, and drums processed to the point of imploding there is a sense of experimenting that is sadly lacking in other areas of the Beyond Ugly.

It’s not all ‘rooster-strutting’ chest-puffed bravado, as on the gentle ‘music-box’ shuffle of Hear It Comes (which neatly rhymes ‘Jimmy Tarbuck’ with ‘martyr’). Unfortunately lo-tempo isn’t always a successful gear change, as on the slight and unmemorable The Love, which seems like some reject from The Monkees in its plodding whimsy. Army bears the mark of a low-slung percussive ‘Madchester’ groove whose repeated questioning adds some tension despite rather weak lyrics.

Things take on a cinematic swoop even on the brief ‘mood piece’ Dark Before The Dawn which stalks an ominous string and slow bass line before segueing effortlessly into the decidedly ‘cosmic’ End, which dabbles with sound collage in its mashing of found sounds before collapsing into a minimalist, simplistic loop of vulnerable recitings of ‘this is the end, again and again.’ Keeping the cinematic feel is Don’t Try This At Home, which threatens to morph into The Blue Wrath from zombie-comedy Shaun Of The Dead in its club-footed menace and organ frills.

The instrumental White Nothing Sky shows some signs of invention in the simplistic twinning of ‘trip-hop’ beats and scuzz bass, but never materialises into anything. Similarly, Holes has ‘album filler’ written all over it in the dearth of tune, originality or memorability.

Echoes of The Dawn Of The Dead soundtrack, The All Seeing I or The Kinks in their more playful psyche phase are all in evidence as ‘touchstones’. On this evidence Malachai have made some good listening choice even if this has not translated into a wholly successful listening experience.

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More on Malachai
Malachai – Beyond Ugly
Malachai – Return To The Ugly Side