Brand New Machine
Major players on the global club scene for almost a decade now, Saul “Chase” Milton and Will “Status” Kennard have also developed an enviable sideline providing beats for prominent pop stars, a wild departure from their original plan. The British duo emerged in 2003 as an underground drum ‘n’ bass act, a niche market at the time, but the ever-acquisitive pop world then mutated to accommodate them. Rihanna is their most celebrated regular customer, cherry-picking fresh Chase and Status backing tracks for several of her recent albums, as if ordering shoes from a favourite designer.
The band’s public profile is burgeoning now, too, with a first arena tour beginning later this month, and yet their third album remains admirably free of mass-market compromise. This becomes apparent during the opening track, Gun Metal Grey, a disturbingly growly, gloomy hip-hop dirge that will leave many listeners wondering if their CD or MP3 is somehow playing at the wrong speed.
A glance at the track listing reveals a huge array of guest stars – although perhaps the word “stars” is slightly misleading. Milton and Kennard refrained from reaching out to their higher-profile associates and have instead peppered the record with fresher singing talents. It’s a sensible move, as big names can imbalance such multi-vocalist albums, and there’s a pleasing sense here of performers giving their all rather than just returning a favour. Particularly successful are Ed Thomas’s soulful turn on the inventive two-step ballad Blk and Blu, and two epic orchestral trip-hop efforts: Like That, featuring Moko, and What is Right, sung by Abigail Wyles.
The latter track was the fruit of jam sessions with Chic’s Nile Rodgers, but is much moodier than his recent work with Daft Punk, and the bigger-name acts that do appear here tend to darken the mood. The New York rapper Pusha T chats menacingly over Machine Gun (which actually suggests an oppressively futuristic laser-cannon), while the more aptly named Pressure is an intense, unsettling collaboration with Major Lazer, the American producer Diplo’s dancehall project.
Brand New Machine is ambitiously, sometimes jarringly varied, rattling through heavy rock, jaunty reggae and even classic commercial dance – Deeper Devotion conjuring happy memories of Coldcut’s squelchy pop productions from the late 1990s. That innovative duo eventually abandoned the hit parade, but for the moment Chase and Status seem content to keep straddling the mighty chasm between fun and ferocity, no matter how many potential fans they disturb. Well, it works for Rihanna.