The shifting, musically restless STATELESS have come out of exile. It seems like years have gone by (some have), with Chris James in the role of stellar navigator, out there somewhere, sweeping clouds of creative influence from a decade of dance, trip-hop, underground rock, jazz and piano songs into a fresh constellation. Precisely for this exact year.
It is a tingling, shuddering, lascivious album of absolute classic tunes.
Through label, producer and personnel changes STATELESS have recorded, mixed, revisited and remixed the ten tracks we now have. The Jim Abbiss-assisted Bloodstream EP that W&H reviewed almost exactly two years ago gave us earlier mixes of "Exit", "Bloodstream", "Inscape" and "Bluetrace". Added here are "Prism #1", "This Language" (featuring Lateef the Truthspeaker), "Down Here", "Radiokiller", Running Out", and "Crash".
Urban melancholy is there in minor keys and the harsh scuttle of rats and thrilling scratch nightmares. A tender physical touch is there too, in the softly knurled edge of Chris James's rich soulful voice. A big heart beats on a cinematic surround-sound scale, with rhythm masters (now) David Levin on drums and Justin Percival on bass, reinforced with KidKanevil's lightning-deck attacks and Rod Buchanan-Dunlop's quantum bewilderment of electronic impossibilities. You will hear the influences you know best, and miss the ones you heard only in dreams. The whole work defines a new level of possibility in brilliant, durable and genuinely popular music.
Prism #1 opens the album with a piano tune that dives into drum and bass fragments, trailing in a wind of synth, scratches and samples. The sheer strength of the tune keeps it all together and the track ends at peace with itself. Following straight on from this brand new song, the first notes of "Exit" are now so well known (to some), so exciting and so definitively STATELESS that I have to remind myself that this is a debut album and this material (that Leeds and DJ Shadow audiences worldwide know so well) is actually brand new for a lot of people. They are going to love it!
"Bloodstream" follows, with its cool intro, its pleading verse and its lonely, lonely piano. This is where Chris Martin should have dared to reach for after the "Blue Room" EP. Never mind. We're there now with a bigger voice.
"This Language", sounding like an evocation of rumoured European wars, features a hint of Yiddish on violin and is troubled by the distant voices of bewildered fugitives, in fear and longing for something human and loving. LATEEF THE TRUTHSPEAKER adds the centred voice of a new world, snapping the ancient horrors back into 2007 Red Alert. It ends "There will be good. There will be peace. There will be compassion". As a song it exemplifies the STATELESS mission - combing the very best from wherever it can be found and crying out for a better future, where better music can be made by building on the achievements of forbears. Ripping it all up again and again isn't an option.
"Down Here" holds the album's centre like the quiet eye of the creative storm. It’s a quiet song that gradually cloaks itself in the density and coolness of the STATELESS groove. "Radiokiller" follows with a sharp contrast of snapping percussion and brilliantly syncopated marimba played by Guy Wood. To me it sings "hit record". It makes me jump about.
"Running Out" runs with acoustic guitar set in electronic fields and James' voice in gentle lullaby mood, until the urban crew set about it with wire cutters and choppy beats. To a Big Finish. Th efollowing "Crash" evokes a little gentle optimism. It’s a delicate and rather sweet thing.
"Bluetrace" starts sumptuously and becomes the massive, terrifying climax to the whole album - ending in magnificent cacophony of rage and frustration. Catharsis achieved, it gives way to the sublime "Inscape" which, like "Bluetrace" provokes shivers of erotic delight. "I can feel your skin on my skin. How did it get so cold in here?" is a magnificent line in its perfect setting. STATELESS end in peerless mode.
Taken together this 50 minutes of densely produced, ravishing music deserves serious attention, The deftness of STATELESS, the band, and the seductive melody of James' voice are such temptations. They can draw the gentlest and most undemanding of souls into a world of experiences that are altogether darker and deeper than they might have accepted from lesser artists. STATELESS, the album, has both the emotional power to be popular and the musical erudition to be critically acclaimed.