Malachai

Ugly Side of Love

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AllMusic Review by

There may indeed be nothing new under the sun, but the cunningly crafty Bristol duo Malachai have hit on some fairly novel and idiosyncratic ways of reinvigorating the sounds of bygone days, while drawing their proudly retrogressive sonic cues from a surprisingly under-plundered patch of the pop-history dustbin. Ugly Side of Love is a rambunctious pastiche of classic British AOR, circa 1968-1973 -- a pastiche in the sense of unabashed stylistic mimicry -- steeped deep in the grooves of psychedelic and progressive rock, sunny power pop, high-octane blues, gritty white boy soul, and even early metal -- as well as a motley and often muddled hodge-podge, structurally and sonically. Unlike other nostalgia-fueled, sample-driven aural patchwork quilts, however -- the Go! Team's Thunder, Lightning, Strike and Jason Forrest's Unrelenting Songs of the 1979 Post Disco Crash are both useful reference points, although this album isn't anywhere near as giddily hyperactive -- this album presents Malachai less as cheeky post-everything ironists than as grinning but largely reverent revivalists, playing things surprisingly straight-faced behind their monkey masks. Even if their purposely murky working methods are clearly a good deal removed from your typical '70s psych-blues outfit, Ugly Side of Love would sound shockingly plausible if presented as a newly rediscovered artifact from four decades past. Virtually every sound here, including all sorts of rudimentary electronic manipulations -- backwards tape loops, vocal phasing, cavernous reverb, vinyl scratches, rhythmically slipshod looped drum breaks -- could conceivably have been heard on any number of the era's trippier platters, and apart from a couple of credited and/or recognizable sourcings (the Guess Who's "Hand Me Down Love" forms the basis for "How Long," and, apparently, a loop of sunny soft popster Daniel Boone powers the blisteringly righteous stomper "Snowflake"), it's confoundingly hard to tell how much of the album is composed of samples, even if Malachai are sometimes downright sloppy about leaving audible seams. Indeed, the ramshackle quality of the production is entirely in keeping with the loose, quasi-analog aesthetic, and given the psychedelic excesses of the period, the album's formal oddities (brief, inscrutable interludes; barely there song structures; one-off stylistic cul-de-sacs like the peppy beach-party strum-along "Moonsurfin'" or the gloom-soaked, Geoff Barrow-assisted lysergic dirge "Only for You") might not be so out of place either. As refreshing and intriguing as it is on a sonic level, though, Ugly Side of Love might remain no more than a curiosity if not for its copious, pervasive musicality: abundantly funky boogie rock grooves, broiling guitar licks, and subtle but deep-penetrating melodic hooks that, with repeated listens, threaten to strong arm even ear-candy confections like "Lay Down Stay Down" (with its propulsive, Can-like drumming and mariachi trumpets), thanks in large part to the compelling and versatile vocals of frontman Gee, whose grittily powerful pipes are uncannily well-suited to this particular stylistic potpourri, switching off handily between honeyed ("Another Sun"), menacing ("Blackbird"), and earnestly soulful ("Fading World.") Heady stuff, indeed.

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