Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Kosheen - Resist (2001) Review

So here we are, the daddy of my DnB collection. I bought this in 2001, close to the end of the year, so just over a decade ago. I had first heard of Kosheen over a year earlier when my stereo woke me up in the morning to Suicide (Slip ‘n’ Slide) and seeing as it was my hi-fi, not just a clock radio, that was quite a wake-up. It was right at the beginning of the song as well, not halfway through. I’d never heard DnB before at all, and my exposure to strong female voices was minimal. This certainly got me out of bed! Suicide, while having lyrics that might be described as trippy, or if you were feeling uncharitable, meaningless, is a track which totally kicks ass, putting it simply. The drums are hard and frantic, the bass is very restrained but intense, the minimal fuzzy lead and pads fit in just right, and Sian’s voice yells out powerfully. Somehow I failed to get my hands on more than one other track (Hide U) before the Resist album’s re-release in 2001 following the success of the house remixes of Hide U. By then Kosheen had toured in support of Faithless (I so wish I could have seen one of those gigs) and I was buying CDs like they were going out of fashion, so I picked Resist up.

After intro track Demonstrate, Hide U opens the album up proper, in its full glory with verses intact, which add a bit more character to the song than the chorus-only single and remix versions. It’s not quite the frantic rush of Suicide but it has a much catchier vocal hook and a similarly simple but effectivebassline, along with Decoder and Substance’s slick drum programming. This set me up for a whole album of DnB - but surprisingly it is followed by the vocal breakbeat track “Catch”. Now Catch, while not having the same dark and moody attitude of Hide U, is a definite highlight on this album. The drums roll into your brain from the opening loop and the musical tone of the pads andsynths in this song is quite trancey, which support a brilliant vocal from Sianwith some of the coolest lyrics the band’s ever written. Now the band had my absolute full attention and it’s this point that I became a fan. The smooth “Cover” and trip-hop DnB of “Harder” coming next are also great songs, with once again incredibly smooth production complimenting the vocals perfectly and “Harder” in particular combining the slower rhythms and frantic percussion very well, creating a quite subtle song but not killing the momentum of the album to this point. This is important as Suicide is up for its chance to kick you out of the chilled groove and up onto your feet, and then “Empty Skies” maintains this intensity but raises the vocal to even greater heights, getting the most of out Sian’s voice. The epic strings that enter in the chorus would make this feel like a power ballad if not for the drums andbassline, dark and gritty like the feel of many tracks on Decoder’s “Concussion”. This marks the album’s peak in intensity at approximately the halfway point.

The album takes a trippier, darker and slower path for the next two songs, “Resist” and “I Want It All”. These are not quite as cool as the DnB songs, but as trip-hop goes, they’re slick and atmospheric and Sian again provides an almost flawless core to these songs.

“Hungry” brings the tempo back up a bit and provides what is so far the most optimistic song on the album after a dark opening half. This song, which got a single release, was not a critical favourite and seemed at the time to get a perplexed reception from peripheral fans only aware of the DnB songs. This is only natural, as this is the most “pop” moment on the entire album. I think it’s a good song, and although it does stick out as perhaps the most straightforward of the album’s tracks it’s not a misstep. “Face in the Crowd” is also a track with a brighter feel, built around acoustic guitar and a cool piano refrain. The strings on this song also help to make this another stand out track, backed up by funky drums and a catchy vocal, and it was one of my early favourites. “Pride” brings back the darkstep, with the arrangement once again becoming simple but hitting the spot in a big way. While not as well known as the other full DnB songs, this is perhaps the album’s hidden gem. Sian once again pulls out a great performance, the spooky chords are great and the breakdowns with the repeated “Falling..” vocal are a brilliant and unexpected part of the song. This is the sort of subtlety I didn’t really expect from dance music in 2001.

“Cruelty”, the moodiest of the album’s songs as far as I’m concerned, hinges on Sian’s vocals. Again, it is minimal trip-hop in style, but everything works so well on this one that it back the singing up just as much as it needs to. This subtly angry song wouldn’t work for most other vocal-led dance bands, I challenge you to find many other DnB focused albums that could pull this off. “Let Go” follows in another moody style but with less of the anger and more sadness, based on a more driving but still relaxed beat and warm synth pads. Yet again, it’s Sian which pulls it from merely interesting to pure class. Finally, the album closer “Gone” is where Kosheen shift the music from dark to optimistic after those comedowns, but in a way typical of bands like Depeche Mode or New Order, the music might sound bright and cheery but the lyrics aren’t. I’m a big fan of that kind of contrast and get more and more so as time goes on. This is another huge standout for this album and easily the most “epic” moment. I can’t wait until I get to see Kosheen again - if they play this I’ll sing it at the top of my voice.

My edition of the album is bookended by the John Creamer and Stephane K remix of Hide U. This is the one that was a big success, and it’s a good and funky prog house effort which would work great in a club, but like most bonus tracks doesn’t really live up to what precedes it. But it is good to get down to this great song at a less frantic pace than the original sometimes.

As you can tell, I can’t criticise this album, I love it too much. I’m unashamed about my opinions, and this is one of those albums I consider a must-have for fans of vocal-led DnB, breakbeat and trip-hop. Decoder’s issue in his solo work sometimes seemed to be lack of direction in his songs, but Sian, Decoder and Substance together do not suffer from this. It would seem that while the two producers provide the foundation of this band, it’s Sian that makes the band truly complete. If you’re mostly into DnB, a lot of this isn’t going to appeal to you as most of it isn’t in that style, and this seemed to be an issue for a lot of early fans of the band - for them it might have felt like a sell out or a watering down of what Decoder and Substance are known for. But in its own right - it is simply great. No contest for me.

I am going to pick favourites though. The “must hear” tracks are Suicide, Catch, Empty Skies and Gone.

Note: This post was transferred from tumblr.

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