As I mentioned in a recent blog, Scottish hip-hop outsiders, Stanley Odd, are set this month to release a brand new EP. 'The Day I Went Deaf' will be released on Monday 24th October 2011. The EP is the follow up to 'Pure Antihero Material' which came out in February this year, and marks the second of 3 EPs to be released this year.
I got the 'The Day I Went Deaf' preview CD a couple of weeks ago and I've been listening to it pretty much since I received it. The accompanying press release did say that this EP was 'showcasing a darker, more direct musical shift' but I'll admit the sound fairly took me by surprise. Don't worry, the CD is still chock-full of killer tracks. However, like me, you may be surprised at just how much the band's sound has developed from the pop/funk/hip-hop vibe of their debut album, 'Oddio'. Quite frankly, 'The Day I Went Deaf' is a brilliant and unexpected new change of direction from this band.
I suppose, looking back at 'Pure Antihero Material', the signposts were there (particularly in 'The Controller') and I should've been alerted to a shift in the band's sound but I think the poppier more straightforward grooves of 'The Oddyssey' and 'Winter of Discontent' eclipsed the stylistic shifts I should have noticed in the other songs.
On 'The Day I Went Deaf' the most obvious change in the sound is in the percussion. When 'By Way of Explanation' starts up with it's grimey sounding snare and electronically modulated bass sound I thought I could detect a dubstep influence, which I just wasn't expecting at all. In fact, the whole CD has a grimey dubstep sound to these ears. To see what I mean just have a listen to the intro of 'Broken Has Morning'. In fact, that whole track has a dirty, glitchy, electronica vibe with virtually no 'keeping to the groove' funk or hip-hop influence.
So where did that percussion sound come from? Where did Samson, the drummer, pull all these choppy/off-centre beats from? I asked Solareye, rap vocals, to fill me in on this new, irregular and gritty Stanley Odd sound. He told me;
"In terms of the drums and the dubstep sound, you are entirely correct to assume that Samson has a lot to do with this. Samson is also a bass-music and dubstep producer under the name of Dunt and I think his influence on the band's music is so evident from 'Pure Antihero' into 'Deaf' and beyond.
In addition, we have completely revised how we work in writing material. Basically me, Samson and T Lo demo beats and email them back and forth, then we go into the studio and replace the drums with Samson's kit, taking the wee musical idea and layering stuff on top of it. Samson is generally only allowed 2 passes through the song then we chop up the sections we like and bounce the multitracks as soon as possible - trying to force ourselves to make decisions early on."
This new song-writing style, eschewing the funky bass lines and rock guitar riffs all over the 90s style, live hip-hop sound of Oddio takes the band into places you could never imagine the Stanley Odd of 2010 going, and you can really hear the band stretching themself. For instance, the lurching, fractured rhythm on 'Get A Grip' is unexpected and almost jarring at first, yet marries so perfectly with the sentiment of the song that it just works beautifully. But the whole CD is full of such dark surprises.
I mean just have a look at the cover art (above). The whole feel of the EP from the artwork onwards suggests something brooding, tense and anxious. These themes are heard in the overwhelmingly minor keys of the music and also within the lyrics. Stanley Odd has always traded on a Solareye's clever, sly humour and Veronica's smooth and catchy pop vocal input. These, virtually trademark, elements are almost completely absent on this EP. Just have a listen to Veronika's vocal on 'How To Sing The Blues Laughing'. Singing lower in her vocal register than normal, she imparts a real depth of solemn feeling into the lyric.Also, check out Solareye's humourless and cynical "Ha Ha Ha Ha" on that same track.
See what I mean about the sombre undertone? And that's just not something you'd normally associate with this band. Indeed, there's a lot of lines on this new EP that don't have the gallus, bouncy, Solareye feel about them.
"At late I've slipped between annoyed & depressed" By Way of Explanation
"I'm feeling less than human" By Way of Explanation
"gradually the world turned a darker shade of grey" The Day I Went Deaf
"I didn't go deaf, I just stopped listening" The Day I Went Deaf
I asked Solareye if that a deliberate ploy or whether 'something of the night' had subconsciously seeped into the music? He told me:
"As for the lyrics. I think sometimes in the past I felt like I was consciously trying to write something that would maintain rap credibility whilst also being accessible to people outside of hip-hop. Sometime that seemed to work and other times I felt it achieved neither. So this time I was just trying to write something with continuity and a bit of honesty. Some of the concepts are less focussed or finished maybe - like I wonder sometimes if you sit too long trying to start-to-finish tell a story then it might lose a bit of the impact in the process... not sure that I'm articulating that very well... there's definitely some darker stuff in there - I still hope to walk the fine line between actual sentiment and not taking myself too seriously but I'm not sure I always manage it."
Another obvious stylistic change is the incorporation of electronic chip-tune style sounds into the Stanley Odd mix. You'll hopefully recall that these were used on Pure Antihero Material's 'The Controller', where they sync well with the song topic. 'The Day I Went Deaf', however, sees them becoming an integral feature of the Stanley Odd sound ('Get A Grip' and 'Broken has Morning'). I asked Solareye where they had come from? He told me:
"In terms of the chip-tune orchestration, again we've just been trying to develop our sound and, as you say yourself, consciously move away from the 90s influenced live hip-hop vibe. The multi-layered part-structure of By Way of Explanation is an example of T Lo's contribution, building and swelling toward the verse section. Other parts, like the warbling choir section section in the outro of that tune were originally T Lo, then me and Samson ran it through some vinyl software and messed about with it on the record - just trying to create more interesting original parts."
Overall then, Stanley Odd have finished what they started on Pure Antihero Material and really burst out of their slightly-retro, 90s style hip-hop sound for something much more modern, serious and mature. Gone are the quirky cartoon characters of the Oddio cover (above) to be replaced by a monochrome sense of brooding, lonely alienation. I hope that, like me, you'll be surprised but impressed by the musical diversity on 'The Day I Went Deaf'. The band tell me that there are only 250 CD copies available, all of which have been handmade. You can pre-order your copy now 'here', and in doing so will be able to download the EP in full straight away. There you go, what are you waiting for?
There will also be an EP launch party, which will take place on Friday 21st October at the Liquid Room in Edinburgh. The show is open to over 14s, and tickets are available to buy now, or as part of a package with the EP, 'here'. The band will also be out on tour throughout October. These are the dates so far confirmed:
21 Oct EDINBURGH Liquid Room (14+)
22 Oct ABERDEEN Tunnels 2 (Oxjam Takeover)
27 Oct INVERNESS Mad Hatters
28 Oct STORNOWAY Jager Rooms
29 Oct AVIEMORE Old Bridge Inn
If you're wondering why there are no shows in Glasgow, or the West of Scotland, on this list and, like me, are pretty upset about that. Solareye had this to say:
"Oh yeah - the Glasgow gig thing is already causing quite a few queries and complaints - we're hoping to play a major show in Glasgow in January. But it hasn't been confirmed, so we can't announce it yet."
Roll on January 2012! Keep watching The Streetlamp for more details.
In the meantime Samson's EP of dubstep music,'Here Comes The Snake', released as 'Dunt' on abagarecords can be freely downloaded from 'here'.
Dunt, Solareye and Harvey Kartel also have a further new project called Downtimers, with a new EP to be released soon. For a wee taster of what to expect and a free download of the demo track 'Where's The Hook?' visit their bandcamp site.