You can say what you want / You can say what you can / We will never give up / We will never disband / We did not come this far / To be hacked overboard / We will not be discouraged / We will not be ignored.
— Never Give Up
Put yourselves in my place for a little while: you get a promo album in the mail from Quannum, and being a worthy music fan, you obviously feel love and respect. Mindful of the inevitable drop-off in recent years from the instant classic plateau of yore, you’re cheered by the prospect of a new plasma infusion into the flagging frame, if slightly nervous about the fact that the donors are unknowns employing quite a few guests. Great taste in guests though — Tunde from TV on the Radio, Mr. Lif, new label mate Pigeon John, and Vursatyl of Lifesavas, whom despite a disappointing album you still cherish for that interlude on Blazing Arrow. Also, the group is an international, interracial couple, which is cute and fervently needed in these times of global strife, and what more, they gel really well together; she can sing, he makes interesting, if relatively simple beats, plus they got DJ Big Wiz on the cuts for most of the album.
Things start to fall apart slightly when you realise that, quirkily textured and tempo’d though the tracks might be, they don’t really develop or feature much in the way of hummable hooks or catchy choruses. In fact, most of the songs don’t seem to be about anything in particular, and quite a few don’t seem to be about anything at all; an impression not exactly assuaged by Mr. Lotta’s way with words, which appears mostly to consist of cleverly twisting lines into rhymes without worrying much about what the resulting cat’s cradle will spell out from afar. Apparently he writes poems strong like a Samoan, deep like an ocean and long like La Bohème (“it’s an opera”, as he helpfully appends), but to you this is irrelevant, harsh though this may seem, because what he provides here is more nonsense rhyme than poetic. Lotta isn’t bad as far as timing is concerned, but in terms of charisma, he’s a bit of a blank page; immediately obscured by the lustre of Lif and Pigeon Johns’ lines. Your brain starts to tune him out about halfway through the album. His better and more mellifluous half, Dana Diaz-Tutaan, has wit and empathy but can also live up to her PR sheet’s description of “staccato chatter and cacophonic wail”; i.e. be really fucking annoying. To cap it off, about half an hour of the disc’s seventy-minute running time is taken up with either skits or (silent secret track) interludes, which is perhaps the worst way you can come up with of emulating Kanye West on your debut.
The highlight of the album is easily “Rob the Bank”, where, after Lotta shuts up, Dana proves that she can do silky-horny very nicely, thank you (“Just because I’m blushing/doesn’t mean I’m shy”) and Martin of Antibalas provides some svelte yet understated sax, Mbira and flute over the top of Guy Licata’s live drumming. It’s always painful when the best and most memorable moments of a record are provided by guests, but when even these don’t add up to an awful lot, lines like the opening quote seem less impressively determined and more a foolhardy request for a good kicking, South Park style. Kick the baby! These people need to put a lot more work into their tracks and come up with something of real substance, or at least dig up some real hooks and more sauciness. Don’t kick the baby! It’s their debut, it’s on Quannum, Chief Xcel really rates them, and so does seemingly the rest of the music press — maybe it’s just you.
Wow, that was one heck of a kick. Vicious bastard, aren’t you? You ever play American football? Ah, rugby, I see.
And there you have it.