Record of the Month
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx
At first glance, ‘We’re New Here’ – Jamie xx’s reworking of Gil Scott-Heron’s 2010 album ‘I’m New Here’ – might have the sneaky whiff of a savvy London record label milking all the cash it can from an already critically acclaimed cow. After all, why go back and fiddle with a record that was released barely over a year ago, already fascinating in its honest, stark, brooding brilliance?
Away with the cynicism. Whatever XL’s reasons for releasing ‘We’re New Here’, the simple truth is it’s a great listen. What the man from The xx has done here, is take a record – full of its little idiosyncrasies – and broken it down into raw elements. He’s pieced them back together, adding his own touch, until what we’re left with is a collection of thirteen songs that stands on its own, very unique, two feet.
Admirably, the London producer has had the cojones to cull certain bits and pieces from the source material; not everything from ‘I’m New Here’ makes the cut. The bits that do, are used to fine effect. Scott-Heron’s deep, weathered voice (manipulated and tweaked to a certain degree) still permeates the record, lending it the same enigmatic quality it did to its older sibling. But, instead of being surrounded by sparse, almost naked instrumentation, ‘We’re New Here’ lays the raspy thing amongst a more lush expanse of deep beats and euphoric synthesisers. It’s not the most obvious of fits, but the two go together like Doc Brown and Marty McFly. Or Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi.
Outside of his all-conquering band The xx, Smith has been known to have a proclivity for all things bass. Not surprisingly, the producer has indulged these inclinations. ‘We’re New Here’ is an amalgamation of varying styles, from the baroque-flavoured dubstep of the record’s lead single ‘NY Is Killing Me’, to the nostalgic ‘I’ll Take Care of U’, with its ‘90s rave piano stabs and throbbing 4/4 house beat (which also makes innovative use of Scott-Heron’s vocal, chopping it up and layering it over itself). Interestingly, it’s also the only track on the record that wields the lush, emotive guitars typical of The xx.
It’s the twelve-minute spell of ‘Running’, ‘My Cloud’, ‘Certain Things (Interlude)’ and ‘The Crutch’ where ‘We’re New Here’ shines most, though. Bass and snare, monstrous in their unwavering onslaught; gorgeous, downtempo bliss with the poet’s rich singing voice of old; analogue musings; the frenetic shuffle of a break under a narrative monologue – a utopia of synthesizers and soaring vocals. It’s a microcosm of the album, a perfect representation of what it is that makes the record such an involving listen. And you’ll be skipping back to hear that run of tracks again in no time.
Essentially, what we have in ‘We’re New Here’ is not just a remix album. Yes, it takes its queues from another record, but ultimately what Jamie xx has done is produce 36 and a half minutes of original, unique and diverse bass music. The fact that it features one of the most iconic voices of the last four decades is, well, an added bonus. And like all great remixes, the end product here sounds nothing like the original. In this case, ‘We’re New Here’ is, dare say it, better than the album it’s based on. It’s punchier. Less protracted. More colourful. And it captures the zeitgeist perfectly. Listen to it from beginning to end – in its entirety, because that’s how it works best. That it only lasts for thirty odd minutes is a small gripe, all things considered.
Words: Ian Hsieh