You know you’ve got a good thing going when one of Portishead’s own, namely Geoff Barrow, wants to take you under his wing. Such is the case of Malachai (formerly known as Malakai), the Bristol-based duo made up of Gee and Scott — no last names needed apparently. The Ugly Side of Love, the band’s first full length, manages to seize the band’s muddled artistic flurry in 13 relatively short tracks.
“Warrior” is our first encounter with the band, and it’s nothing less than jarring. Like most songs on the record, it features a coarse finish wrapped around unclassifiable arbitrariness – in a good way. Gee’s distinctive voice tops off their sound as it carries intriguing lyrics that allude to an impending doom. “Shitkicker” then proves that the mind-bending chaos that is Malachai seems to work solely because of the strange synchronicity that results from Scott’s music and Gee’s vocals. To wit, during “Shitkicker” Scott indulges in western riffs and “more cowbell!” while Gee delights in Jack-White-styled vocals. I’m guessing that without either one of them, that craziness would all seem inane.
Gee’s storytelling skills are worth a special mention. The imagery he conveys in songs like “Snake Charmer”, “Moonsurfin”, and especially “Another Sun” confers brilliant depth to their music. There is never a dull moment when Gee sings — or narrates — about the end of the world and our place in the matter. At the same time Scott seems to enjoy sampling to no end, and he does it well. And even though there is little homogeneity throughout, he manages to achieve an outstanding level of consistency, due in no small part to the duo’s open-mindedness when it comes to taking cues from different genres. Trip-hop, reggae, post-punk, rock, pop… it’s all there. The album also turns out to be an easy-listen as almost every track seamlessly morphs into the next, with practically no leeway in between.
However, as good as the overall quality of The Ugly Side of Love may be, there is some weakness around the basic structure of a couple of songs. Take “How Long”, the weakest track on the record; although the repetitive patterns and guitar riffs taken right out of Guitar 101 might work on “Snowflake” and “Warrior” thanks to over-the-top embellishments, it just sounds way too simplistic on songs like “How Long”. Thankfully, “Another Sun” and “Fading World” prove that Gee and Scott can occasionally be purposefully melodious. They also hold some of the best lines on the album; a hurt Gee sings “So here’s your song / It’s got bruises” and “Let’s remain friends till it hurts!” Later, in the thought-provoking “Fading World” the music and lyrics plead for us to “Hold on to your world / This fading world.”
The Ugly Side of Love ends on a high note with “Simple Song”, which is everything but what the name suggests. The pair’s creativity goes far beyond this time, as they bring an unexpected end to a fantastically bizarre journey. And although we’re hearing about them a whole year after their UK release, here’s to hoping Scott and Gee continue to break barriers with their endearing oddity.