strange, psych rock, with some Beck slipping in
a couple of tracks were ok

Grade - 1.3

released Feb 22nd, 2011

from the album - Let 'Em Fall - 2.0

from all music


Malachai are a cryptic, capricious, Bristol-based duo whose perplexing, structurally erratic cut-and-paste songs bear the unmistakable imprint of classic late-'60s/early-'70s British rock -- psychedelia, prog, heavy blues, and white boy garage-soul -- stitched together with traces of trip-hop, hip-hop, dub, Krautrock, and more. Equally impudent in their playful disregard for established musical boundaries, and in their willfully enigmatic public persona, burly-voiced vocalist Gee and shadowy sample-master Scott (no last names given) began working together as Malakai in 2006 (they were later forced to change the name after an Australian rapper laid claim to their original spelling), citing inspiration from Brian Wilson and the Beatles as well as Madlib, Edan, and Massive Attack. With encouragement from Portishead's Geoff Barrow, a longtime friend and local Bristol figurehead, they began releasing music the following year, blurring the perceptual lines between live instrumentation and transparently sampled material on tracks like their debut single "Fading World," issued on Barrow's Invada imprint, and "The Battle" (later retitled "Shitkickers"), the lead track on a 2007 Island Records EP. After a prospective deal with Island fell through, Malachai released their first album, 2009's Ugly Side of Love, on Invada as well; it was picked up by Domino Records for a U.S. release the following year.

Album Review

By giving their second album a title that explicitly positions it as a sequel to their exceptional, eye-popping debut, Ugly Side of Love, the pigeonhole-defying Bristol duo Malachai set up a curious set of expectations. Besides suggesting a general similarity between the two efforts, the implication seems to be that this is, if not necessarily a lesser work, one that shouldn't or can't quite stand on its own merits. Return to the Ugly Side might indeed be most charitably considered as a companion piece -- and more of a supplement than a necessary complement -- but it's not exactly a retread. The overall feel of the album is comparable, with the same phantasmagoric, slightly seedy vibe, and a similar off-beat evocation of dusty, decades-old records. But this a much more subdued, streamlined affair than the gaudy, kaleidoscopic pastiche of its predecessor: if not a maturation, certainly a mellowing. Generally speaking, Return hearkens mostly to the debut's slower, murkier side -- cuts like "Fading World" and the drowsy, Geoff Barrow-assisted "Only for You" -- resulting in a set that hews much closer to the '90s trip-hop typically associated with Malachai's hometown. The genre's cinematic obsession is immediately foregrounded by the steamrolling soundtrack strings of the opening "Monsters" (an overture which turns out to be essentially an instrumental version of searing, Portishead-y album highlight "Monster"), while the gently eerie "Rainbows" invites singer Katy Wainwright for the obligatory haunted chanteuse turn. There are still moments vividly redolent of turn-of-the-'70s British rock, pop, and soul -- the crunchy hard rock guitars on "Mid Antarctica (Wearin' Sandals)"; the jaggedly funky drum beats on "Anne," and the kinetic "(My) Ambulance," although these elements feel somehow more oppressive, less sprightly, in this context. But there's a conspicuous lack of the outright rockers which lent some seriously spiky punch to the first album's paisley patchwork. An emphasis on sustained mood and texture over individuated songs isn't a terrible sound for these guys -- and they haven't entirely lost their knack for simple, effective songwriting, as demonstrated by the wry "No More Rain No Maureen" and standout "Let 'Em Fall," a deliciously spooky, menacing showcase for Gee Ealey's potently throaty R&B crooning -- although a disappointing proportion of this brief set (including its two longest cuts) winds up feeling sparse, dreary, and weirdly rudderless. That said, Malachai remain a fascinating, worthwhile, and essentially unique proposition, and there's still plenty to enjoy, for fans and newcomers alike, even in this somewhat diminished Return.

Track Listing

1 Monsters Ealey, Hendy, Salisbury 2:09
2 Anne Ealey, Hendy 2:47
3 Mid Antarctica (Wearin' Sandals) Ealey, Hendy 2:28
4 Rainbows Ealey, Hendy 2:29
5 In the Hole Ealey, Hendy 0:39
6 My Ambulance Ealey, Fuller, Hendy 2:48
7 Distance Ealey, Hendy 2:54
8 Monster Ealey, Hendy, Salisbury 2:22
9 The Don't Just Ealey, Hendy 2:40
10 How You Write Ealey, Hendy, Salisbury 3:14
11 Let 'Em Fall Ealey, Hendy 2:55
12 No More Rain No Maureen Ealey, Hendy 3:09
13 Snake Eyes Ealey, Hendy, Salisbury 0:49
14 Hybernation Ealey, Hendy 3:41