Malakai - Ugly Side Of Love

Ian Atherton 00/00/0000

Rating: 4/5

“Think Mellow Gold-era Beck crossed with The Kinks!” “Sounds like a lost 1960s classic by David Axelrod and Shuggie Otis!” “Imagine if Lee Scratch Perry produced The 13th Floor Elevators!”

The imaginary-collaboration brigade have already had much fun with the mysterious Bristolian duo known as Malakai, with confusing results. A further potter round existing reviews reveals an even more perplexing array of assessments: “Reggae beats, eerie soul/funk and distorted samples!” “A realist blend of scratches, samples, sixties pop, psychedelic rock, soul, breaks and beats!” “Spaghetti-western punk reggae!”

Such unwillingness to create something easily pigeonholeable would seem to mark the dynamic duo as a lil' bit different and potentially worth paying attention to - and a quick listen to Ugly Side Of Love acts as a glorious confirmation. Once the admirably righteous but entirely tuneless opener Warriors is out of the way, it's freewheeling retro thrills all the way - Shitkicker (once called The Battle and lauded by a probably overenthusiastic Zane Lowe) begins with a demented cowboy chant before the distortion levels skyrocket and the song opens out into a widescreen paean to who-knows-what and who-cares-anyway. Snow Flake is even better, a painfully catchy stomper that tumbles from a piano intro to an impossibly fuzzy riff to an ominous plea of “I want off this roundabout”.

From here, the album is a brilliantly bumpy ride that never ceases to take the scenic route just for the hell of it, with highlights including the swirling psychedelia of Blackbird, the stuttering trip-hop of Fading World and Another Sun, which would fit comfortably on JK & Co's lost 1969 classic Suddenly One Summer.

The latter in particular showcases vocalist Gee's agile voice, at times authentically gritty but often possessing the crystal-clear sharpness of The Boo Radleys' Sice. It's his contributions that give the album coherence, as partner-in-crime Scott has an admirable tendency to continually reinvent his musical palette, presumably with a bit of help from executive producer Geoff Burrows of Portishead.

There's no question that the most tuneful efforts here could rule the airwaves this summer, but as full-lengthers go, this is an album far too scattershot and uneven to hold the attention of Johnny Mondeo - and that's a compliment. Demented throwaways such as Snake Charmer (which unfathomably references “the Batman TV series”), baffling interludes like the skit about sandwiches that ruins the enjoyably stop-start Omega Time, and pointless dirges like Only For You give The Ugly Side Of Love the feel of a genuine artistic outpouring rather than a commercial enterprise, the sound of a couple of overly creative maniacs spewing forth whatever comes to mind, be it future number ones or steaming number twos.

Furthermore, while on the surface this often sounds like simple throwaway fun for these gloom-laden times, a close listen to the lyrics reveals a dark core to the summery exterior, particularly on the closing third of the album. The menacing mariachi-style Laydown Stay Down is punctuated by gunfire, while the funkily plaintive How Long and Fading World (“this land is a miserable rock stuffed like a foot at the end of a sock full of razorblades”) are almost unbearably contemplative. Thankfully, light relief comes from Simple Song, the slowly unravelling album closer which gives inexplicable lyrical mentions to Judy Finnigan, Pinocchio and Cheryl Tweedy.

So in summary: an unfocused, derivative, self-indulgent, nonsensical mess of an album. Highly recommended.