Music

4hero: Play with the Changes

Mark Szakonyi

Burn out or fade away, just don’t release an overproduced and often dull electronic jazz-soul album.


4hero

Play with the Changes

Label: Raw Canvas
US Release Date: 2007-01-29
UK Release Date: 2007-02-27
Amazon
iTunes

Burn out or fade away, just don’t release an overproduced and often dull electronic jazz-soul album. Drum and bass pioneers 4hero take the path Neil Young failed to mention in their first release in six years. The London-based duo’s Play with the Changes occasionally works when the right vocalist is found. More often, songs straddle the line between background restaurant music and soul-lite. There are countless downtempo and acid-jazz outfits that create a forgettable jazz café sound, but it is most disappointing when it comes from such prolific innovators. Even worse is that 4hero has shown that it can integrate its acid-jazz yearnings into its early drum and base framework. Dennis "Dego" McFarlane and Mark “Marc Mac” Clair added onto the existing neo-soul sound with the breakbeat/downtempo gem Creating Patterns. The Mercury Prize-winning duo successfully updated Minnie Ripperton’s “Les Fleur”, and finally gave Jill Scott the instrumental backing she needs but rarely gets on “Another Day”.

Like its last release, Play with the Changes starts strong with “Morning Child”, which kicks off with a Curtis Mayfield-like groove that works surprisingly well with the almost too-smooth vocals of Carina Andersson. Female jazz vocals often require a distinct edge, akin to Nina Simone or Billie Holliday, but Anderson, who helped make 4hero’s “Les Fleur” a hit, makes it work. The former jungle duo isn’t so lucky with “Take My Time”, featuring Jack Davey. The funky breakbeat works, but without a signature vocalist it becomes more of a cooling down than a soul workout. The collaboration with Face on “Look Inside” is a throwback to 4hero’s early house. Unfortunately, the early '90s sound triggers a tinge of nostalgia that is quickly swallowed up by its staleness. If anything, the album suffers from not enough weak vocals. There needs to be a gender balance. Not that "Give In" isn’t testosterone drenched, but Darien Brockington and Phonte, of Little Brother, help offset the album’s syrupy sweet female vocals. It sounds like a lost b-side from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, and that translates to an a-side soul classic. This transitions well into “Play with the Changes”, partly because the album's title track features Larry Mizell, who wrote and produced for Marvin Gaye and the Jackson Five.

Things begin to go stale around midway through when the female vocalists all seem to run together. Nothing is offensive, nor is it anything to turn up, either. For instance, Brazilian Bembe Segue’s performance becomes null once the beat becomes obnoxious three minutes through the song. Roy Ayers and Sun Ra’s influence is heard, but the songs still fail to groove. There is a little bounce, but nothing to stay with you after the songs are over. The same goes for the cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman.” Nothing is added or tweaked, and what is left is a sly doppelganger to the original space-funk hit.

The last highlight on the album unsurprisingly features downtempo goddess Ursula Rucker. Finally, an edge is shown in the previous 4hero collaborator’s storytelling of spiritual rebirth on “Awakening". The strings complement her perfectly, so the flow doesn’t unravel into a so-called deep poetry jam. Rucker sounds like she actually feels the soul. It’s something more in the voice that makes the listener take a break from dinner or cocktail and wonder what brought the music from the background to the forefront. There should be no worries that 4hero won’t recapture the momentum and groove it has displayed throughout the last 15 years. But until that time, fans will have to get by with the duo’s recently released The Remix Album for jazzy, deep soul with an electronic breakbeat that's truly worth your attention.

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Following his excellent debut record Communion, Rabit further explores the most devastating aspects of its sound in his sophomore opus Les Fleurs du Mal.

Back in 2015 Rabit was unleashing Communion in the experimental electronic scene. Combining extreme avant-garde motifs with an industrial perspective on top of the grime sharpness, Eric C. Burton released one of the most interesting records of that year. Blurring lines between genres, displaying an aptitude for taking things to the edge and the fact that Burton was not afraid to embrace the chaos of his music made Communion such an enticing listen, and in turn set Rabit to be a "not to be missed" artist.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image