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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Malachai – Ugly Side Of Love – Album Review

An impressionist audio collage that's actually a stoner rock album, this Bristol band's debut is a right psychadelic gem

Written by Ian Steadman


Do you remember Woodstock? It’s said that, page if you were there, you shouldn’t. Something like six million more people claim to have been there than actually were, if I remember rightly – I’m not sure. A number somewhere in that region, I imagine. Can’t be bothered to check exactly, and Malachai probably wouldn’t either, so I’m acquiescing to their style. Ugly Side Of Love is a rough-hewn 60s throwback that sounds like (what I imagine) what waking up at Woodstock on the final morning felt. I say waking up, I mean coming up with the dawn as Jefferson Airplane stumbled through their set at around 8am, Grace Slick’s voice distorted by many things more than just the distance and the tent canopy and a whole bunch of reverb. Malachai have managed to make an album that is, no word of a lie, entirely summed up in the album cover. Just look at that blue-smoke psychedelic vision (capturing the sound of blue smoke is a terrific achievement, it must be said), those terrible eyes, those colours. Just look at them. Wow.

Malachai are one of those extremely loud duos, a couple of guys who sound like a whole bunch of pissed-off bastards making deliberate noise. They’re from Bristol and have been championed by Geoff Barrow of Portishead, and that makes a lot of sense by the 1:30 mark on opener ‘Warriors’. I say this because they’ve reminded me just how limited, how narrow-minded, most of the current ‘alternative’ music I’ve been listening to is – I may wax lyrical on ‘breadth of influence’ or some similar critically pretentious descriptor, something that is essentially just a re-hashing of ‘they’ve got horns/strings/lots of members/synths’, but we’re talking about bands who pretty much listen to nothing outside of a narrow range of post-punk, 80s indie, 90s indie, and a few token world acts (or possibly just Paul Simon) for good measure.

Malachai – coming from a city that is arguably most famous these days for being something of a hippie outpost, a place spoken of with reverence by those who are really into their psychedelics yet find procuring them a frustrating experience – don’t exactly keep their cards close to their chest, revealing themselves as dedicated acolytes of this intoxicant culture. Ugly Side Of Love reminds me intensely of the (occasionally maligned) Magical Mystery Tour EP by The Beatles – a lot of people only listen to that soundtrack for I Am The Walrus and Strawberry Fields Forever and all those big hits, but there are a couple of instrumentals on there that are pretty, well, weird, even by the standards of the Beatles’ LSD phase. Lots of tape loops and odd psychedelic twinges, and that kind of attitude gets stretched here to something approaching the length of an LP. It’s even got the feel and texture of something you might expect served up by DJ Shadow, but it’s also undeniably a straight-up rock record – a strange combination, but one that clearly isn’t tried often enough if this is indicative of the potential in such experiments.

So we have the stoner-rock and garage-rock foundational stones, but adorned with the tricks and treats that can be found within Bristol’s various musical communities. Barrow’s influence, being producer and all, is evident, and certain tracks bear familial resemblances to Portishead’s trip-hop (‘Only For You’), but there’s also a fair bit of turntablism (‘Fading World’) and hip-hop sample play (‘Meeches Theme’). There are horns lifted straight out of the Arthur Lee playbook on ‘Lay Down Stay Down’, and dancehall drum patterns on ‘Only For You’. In fact, the only place where it’s nothing more than just a plain ol’ garage-rock record is on ‘Snowflake’, which could easily pass on any new Nuggets compilation.

Ugly Side Of Love is, as the name suggests, ugly. It’s all over the bloody place, but, by god, it’s wonderful for it. Every listen suggests new hooks, an extra level of depth that you’d never expect from music that’s usually something so simplistic. A lot of care has been paid here – this sloppiness, it’s intentional. Give it the attention it deserves.

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