Spoken Word Legend Gets Electro-Pop Upgrade

Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx
We’re New Here
XL

It’s a strange collaboration: Gil Scott-Heron, innovator and spoken-word artist of  blaxploitation-era New York, and Jamie xx, ultramodern electronic musician most famous for his work with London’s minimalist dance outfit the xx. But on We’re New Here, Jamie xx confidently dispels the skepticism, effectively reworking Scott-Heron’s outstanding 2010 release I’m New Here into a fresh and versatile collection of sleek, electronic pop songs.

Jamie’s production — a cross between early 2000’s UK Garage and the ever-so-relevant post-dubstep of artists like James Blake — captures the tension, the drama, and above all, the tenderness in Scott-Heron’s vocals, without sounding adamant on pretentious experimentation. The result is some of the freshest, most fascinating dance music released recently.

On opening track “I’m New Here,” Scott-Heron’s raspy voice weaves around a delicate soul sample, until being overtaken by massive waves of bass. On the outstanding “My Cloud,” Jamie crafts a ballad out of a particularly charming vocal sample, pairing Scott-Heron’s voice with fuzzy, meandering synthesizer lines. Though most tracks are dance floor-ready, others cover new stylistic ground for Jamie. “I’ll Take Care Of You,” with its dramatic guitar line and vintage disco production, might even sound at home on an early DFA compilation.

The stylistic shifts between tracks make the entire album an easy, enjoyable experience. However, We’re New Here is not merely a production exercise for Jamie xx. What truly makes the album great is the fact that, by recontextualizing Gil Scott-Heron’s work, Jamie xx reveals new facets of both artists. The listener comes to realize that the two artists possess a sense of drama, tension, and texture that makes We’re New Here an aesthetically consistent composition, as well as one of the most appealing pieces of electronic music released so far this year. (8/10)

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