Though 'Peace, Love & Music' is Swindle's second album proper it feels more like a debut – or at least the debut that he should have made. That's not to needlessly knock the Deep Medi-released 'Long Live The Jazz' (though if you weren't a fan of that don't let it put you off this sophomore effort), but while that effort felt focused to the point of sounding contrived, 'Peace, Love & Music' positively brims with the kind of expansive expression that you'd more often find on a first long player.
This might be on account of Swindle's newfound comfort in his place in the scene, and the role he has carved out for himself to play in moving his native genre forward – though it can still be noted that the Butterz crew, of which he is a key member, continue to define themselves as outsiders. Touring with a full live band, rather than being cooped up behind a pair of turntables, has certainly contributed too.
Grime's history is one of rare glimpses of parity between producers and MCs (Butterz's label arm was founded with the mission of redressing the balance between the two, after all). The relationship between the two often extends little further than beats picked out for freestyle 'net videos, but here vocalists become another instrument to work and collaborate with. And there is a lot of collaboration on show: when first playing us the album, label bosses Elijah & Skilliam seemed almost as excited to count off the 28 or so different musical contributors on the credits list. Rather than coming off like a compilation of one-take studio sessions – 2007's self-released 'The 140 Mixtape' had a similar number of names on the back cover too – this is a genuinely connected body of work; that the musical connections range, as the opener puts it, from 'London To LA' and taking in everywhere from Shanghai to Scotland, South Africa and the Philippines in between only makes it more impressive, particularly in the context of the typically microclimatic grime scene.
But before we fall too far down the rabbit hole of referring to this as a grime album, it should be made clear that it isn't one. Not sonically, at least. If you really want to call it a grime album, it would be on account of its ability to project an attitude of defiance towards categorisation; but then you might just as well call it a jazz album, or a post-punk album or (maybe whisper it) a dubstep album. Ultimately, if you wanted to say that it sounds like any one thing then it would be simpler just to say that it sounds like fun.
Tracks like 'Malasimbo' and 'Shanghai', part-recorded in the Philippines and China respectively, express an infectious joy in collaboration and musical discovery that can so easily be taken for granted, somewhat ironically, in today's uber-connected world. Neat touches like the use of sampled speech and environment recordings to pad out each track serve to emphasise that sense of both enjoying and keeping a strong document of being in the creative moment. It doesn't always come off so strongly – 'Tokyo', for instance, is garish despite Joker's arcade intro, and the JME-featuring 'Mad Ting' ends up feeling fruitlessly forced and derivative – but for the most part it's infectious. 'Elevator', produced alongside Bristolian drum 'n' bass legend TC, puts a dancehall flip on an established formula and comes out sounding like a Swindle take on Dub Phizix & Strategy's 'Bleep Test' (which is a good thing, by the way); 'Global Dance', meanwhile, is going to be ringing in plenty of ears post-Outlook this year – place your bets now and thank us later.
There's a lot to like here, but what's perhaps most refreshing is the way in which the young maestro manages to retain his signature throughout: he's no longer relying on a trademark coarse synth sound (which is often, as well as through the use of producer tags, how producers in the grime scene have differentiated themselves), but instead can be recognised by his actual arrangements – whether on a funk bassline, Filipino glockenspiel tinkering or Chinese pentatonics, the whole is undeniably Swindle.
Words: Will Pritchard (Twitter)
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