Friday, 7 September 2012

Kosheen - Get a New One, Mannequin and Spies (2012) Singles Reviews


Well finally the day approaches for the release of Kosheen's fourth album, after a wait of over five years from the release of Damage. I have heard a fair number of preview tracks by this point from Soundcloud and elsewhere, but more importantly two full singles have been released and at least one or two more should be expected. To prepare for the album release I'm going to give my thoughts on the two released singles and their remixes, and also discuss the unreleased "Spies" which we got a preview of back in February.


Get a New One

Well they didn't waste time in making an impression. First single "Get a New One", released in January, is a 127 bpm electro house track. This is the sort of track that's pretty popular at the moment and the pumping, heavily sidechained gritty bass and bright detuned square waves synths are characteristic of the kind of dance music that has easily crossed over into the pop consciousness in the last two or three years since the Gaga boom. As is normal for the band they pull this off - the production doesn't let it down and Sian's voice seems to fit - but unusually for the band this is a bit lacking in their usual charm, perhaps because it feels so middle of the road. It's hard to take songs in isolation sometimes but the lyrics aren't really memorable despite being easy to sing along with, and as with many attempts by an independent act to approach the sound of the ultra-commercial hits it's hard to feel like this song really sells the band's uniqueness to potential fans. Kosheen can do this - Damage was a unique synthpop album - but despite the fact I like "Get a New One" it's not going to stand the test of time well in my opinion.

The remixes for this track are a mixed bunch. The three techno mixes on the Beatport-exclusive release through Skeleton records are perfectly serviceable but not something you'd get much fun out of outside of a club in my opinion, despite the high production values. The others are:
  • The Red Sky remix, which was a free download for a while, is a good bet if you like fairly relaxed tech house which will fit into a chillout set.
  • The belatedly released Michael C and Jean Luc mixes take most of the feel of the original but make it far more insistent and DJ friendly, going more for a peak time club sound than a radio friendly one. If you like electro house that isn't too rough I think this one will suit you, but if you like it really dirty it won't do much for you. 
  • Kalms' second remix brings another techno remix, with a darker sound and a fairly cool gritty bass groove. Jakes provides the more or less expected dubstep remix. It's not a modern brostep wall of sound styled track, it's more toward the slightly older British sound but still definitely not in the old school vein as it's full of bright subtractive sounds and siren. This is NOT my kind of track at all, it would get the floor moving and it's drums are pretty big but it's got about as much depth as a puddle. 
  • Ways and Means go electro breaks and provide probably the dirtiest mix here. This is the sort of thing I could see Elite Force or General Midi playing but it doesn't really have a memorable melody to it and it dispenses with most of the vocals. 
  • Finally there is long term Kosheen friend and remixer Technical Itch who's made the only drum and bass remix. He's gone all dark and neuro on this one, keeping the pre-chorus refrain alone out of the vocals and pitching it a bit to emphasise his reese-heavy and very moody mix which sounds amazing but is far more "wig out" than jump up - definitely one for the fans of older dark dnb rather than the modern stuff. I think this one is the most interesting of the remixes by some way, but I don't know if most Kosheen fans will find much that they want in this bunch on the whole - they're mostly suited to the club, not the headphones.


Mannequin

Well I'll be buggered, it's a drum and bass track! I really did not expect that at all from a band that completely broke with the sound prior to the post-Pendulum resurgence in the sound's popularity, and it's nice to get a surprise sometimes when modern music is often so predictable. Therefore it's also quite pleasing that this song isn't an attempt to chase the most popular jump-up sound that's big right now and therefore hit the same pitfall as "Get a New One" did. It is also important however to point out that this is not classic Kosheen - it's not the sound of Suicide, Hide U or Pride. What "Mannequin", with it's catchy background synth production, fairly traditionally structured verses and chorus and clear, uncluttered mixing puts me in mind of is the band's last album, Damage. If they had made a dnb track on that album, it would have sounded like this - it's dnb synthpop and would have fit well with "Chances" or "Guilty". This is  something that I like a lot, as it's a big change from the usually over clinical and massively compressed sound of a lot of modern dance music in general which dnb has not escaped from. Kosheen fans who liked the last album and like drum and bass will like it. I do however feel that because it's not got that massively loud modern sound, it would be tricky to win over fans from the dnb scene with a song like this in the way that "Suicide" could in 2000, and the absence of the classic Decoder and Substance sound might mean this is not going far enough for really diehard fans either. Nevertheless the return to dnb is welcome and points to a more eclectic mix of styles on Independence than either of the two previous albums had.

The remix package is more interesting and smaller this time around. 

  • The Malente house remix loses most of the vocals but has a solid groove and mixes that up with some breakdowns which maintain some of the original's mood, and I feel it's got more going for it than the house and techno mixes of "Get a New One". 
  • Lee Coombs' breakbeat mix is in the big and powerful but reminiscent of the 80s electro style, even beginning with a very Kraftwerk like riff before going into the big fuzzy bassline later. Again this is one for the General Midis of the DJing world, and it's a funky number if you like your synths old school, although barely any vocals survive once again. 
  • An interesting one in this package is the UK Funky/Future garage mix by Komonazmuk, who brings his dark murky tinge to this mix. The drum production is outstanding, with the rhythm really catching you on percussion alone in the intro without needing any support from the bassline or synths. When the bass does come in, the track goes a bit glitchy before going into main section proper with a relatively straightforward bassline. This is not "catchy" in the slightest but it's got a lot of character to it and definitely bounces along on its fat low end. Once again it doesn't keep the lyrics intact though, Komonazmuk choosing to play around with the pitch of a few select samples of the vocal. 
  • Visionz provides the dubstep mix this time around, with an arrangement that is actually fairly unusual, not relying on the straightforward halftime beat, bringing in amen-like loops to boost the energy level and using a ton of phasey effects to make this sound unlike much other dubstep you're likely to hear if you have only a shallow interest in the style. There's even a sample of what sounds like the Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz saying "I'm melting" in there amongst all the other stuff. This is a busy mix but at the same time as it lacks the massive gritty bass common in a lot of more standard dubstep it actually sounds quite smooth and I consider this a must listen - too brash to be dungeon but too inventive to be by the numbers brostep, you won't hear much like this elsewhere. 
  • Finally for those who desire a more dancey dnb track and want the vocals intact, we have High Frequency's mix. This is a pretty cool sounding mix, sounding like it would fit into most DJs sets more easily than the original and also adding something of a liquid and trancestep feel with the choice of synths and the funky piano in the instrumental sections. This is by far the easiest to get into of these remixes and definitely sounds more "polished" than the original in modern production terms but manages not to sound middle of the road. It uses the vocal very effectively too and I reckon fans of drum and bass who aren't old school diehards will like this a lot.

Spies

This hasn't been released yet, but Kosheen made the radio edit playable back in February when they held a remix competition for it, the winner getting a place on the single which as yet has no official ETA. The track has now been hidden away, with only the many entries into the competition being available online. It's a pop dance track with another fairly strong electro tinge and pumping bass, although not as obvious or as uptempo as "Get a New One" and it also has far shorter verses and a very simple chorus consisting of only two lines. With this track the band has gone a bit less is more in terms of arrangement, although it is still a loud electro track with not too much space left in the mix, again in keeping with the current production zeitgeist. Unfortunately in spite of the neat progression and effects that try to give it a moody "underground" sound and the usual simple but bright Kosheen synthpop lead, it's just not that interesting to me. The melody is a bit too simple and not catchy in the way that "Chances" was for example, and unlike "Mannequin" it doesn't evoke the polished synthpop feel of  Damage - it doesn't even have the immediate danceable feel of "Get a New One". It might sound better in context of the album for all I know, but I personally feel that this song is a weak single.
  • The winner of the remix competition was German artist Polarity, with his fairly progressive and slick dubstep remix. It's a good one if you like your dubstep with a bit of depth, although there's still plenty of loudness and grit in there. 
  • High Frequency also entered this competition and Kosheen seem to like their take on it too, although their mix is far more conservative than the remix of "Mannequin" and is fairly straightforward pumping jump up drum and bass. 

As there are well over a hundred remixes of this now, I can't go into them all! However I will toot my own horn by posting my own entry here. Despite my feelings on the track I couldn't resist the competitions' dark and claustrophobic entry guideline and I felt that the lyrics would work well in a dark dnb track, largely inspired by Kosheen's Resist-era songs as well as artists like Black Sun Empire. Here is the Confusion Grows 172 bpm darkstep take on "Spies":


I await the release of Independence eagerly, as it seems the band still has plenty of dimensions left to explore. Let's hope it contains more pleasant surprises for us.

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