The argument goes that artists always need to evolve, never doing the exact same thing twice, mixing things up so they don’t remain creatively stagnant. For a group like Basement Jaxx, 2014’s stripped-down, frills-free Junto was an abrupt left-turn for a dance group that built a reputation on cramming about six song’s worth of hooks into the space of four minutes, each track exploding like an EDM piñata. The response to the streamlined Junto was muted, and rightly so: even with teaser singles like the great “What a Difference Your Love Makes” being dropped on as bonus tracks almost as an afterthought, it was clear that the Brixton duo wanted to make a clean break from the sound they build they career on, wanting to try something new, even if that something new meant taking all the things people loved about them (bright melodies, unpredictable arrangements, and boatloads of personality) and throwing it all out the window. Junto was that splat sound you heard when those things all hit the pavement.
Thus, the Angel Is Coming EP is a bit of an odd duck: two barely-distinguishable versions of the title song are featured, along with two other add-ons, and all in all, this is a far cry from the Basement Jaxx of old. It’d be great to join other internet commentators and simply drag out the hackneyed bemoanment of “their old stuff was better!”, but even when removed of the highlighter-neon synths and goofy asides that make the Jaxx who they are, even their “mainstream” gambits are remarkably free of hooks. “Angel is Coming” exists purely as an experiment in rising action, synths then drums then horns slowly coming in to a gradually-ascending beat that never pays off. This gambit has been done before in dance music, but at the very least something winds up keeping us focused on the action at hand, unlike here, where it feels like an experiment that got labeled as a song.
“Jus Be Free With Your Body” doesn’t fare much better (‘cos who doesn’t like rambling spoken-word over their song?), leaving “Blue Flute” as the only track of note here, initially bringing in a unique flute sample that soon gets overused when played over a standard 4/4 beat, but a nice break after the four-minute mark changes it into a more synth-driven number that, while stylistically has nothing to do with the part before, at least shows a greater breadth of adventurism than just about anything off of Junto.
No, we don’t know why Basement Jaxx felt that these songs would work as standalone numbers on their own EP either. All we do know is that when you take into account the group’s ever-shifting dynamic and over-the-top personality, this set of songs feels like left-overs that should’ve been tossed out, blank and anonymous entries from a band that couldn’t stand out more even if they tried.