fri 14/06/2024

Album: STR4TA - STR$TASFEAR | reviews, news & interviews



Somehow a perfect facsimile of the past sounds entirely fresh

'For all its retroism, this is one of the – in many senses of the word – freshest albums you’ll hear this year'

There’s retro and there’s retro. Some music – what you might call the Oasis tendency – simply reproduces the obvious signifiers of the past as signposts of cool. But there’s other stuff that shows deep understanding of both the technique and the spirit of what came before, that really taps into the same wellsprings that created the sound it’s replicating in the first place.

Exec producer Gilles Peterson and bandleader Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick’s STR4TA project is well and truly in the second camp, and its beauty is in its absolute adherence to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle. On their second album they are as focused as ever on reproducing the “Brit funk” of the late 1970s and early 1980s in all its high production value, virtuosic, dancefloor directed glory.

Of course, Peterson and Maunick have been immersed in this sound since its heyday – Peterson as a pirate radio DJ from his teens, and Maunick going back further still as a musician in hugely influential acts like Freeez and his own Incognito. But given how connected and innovative Peterson is as a DJ and curator, he could have decided to update the sound with any manner of dynamite MCs, electronic producers and whatnot – however there’s none of that.

Instead it’s 1983 all the way. There’s the complexity that came out of immersion in Herbie Hancock and Weather Report’s jazz-fusion, but also the fact that a lot of British players had cut their teeth in prog rock bands – but constantly held in check by the then brand new thrill of electro drum machines, and the still-enduring influence of disco. Play this too quietly and it might feel noodly, a little bit “Test Card music”, but the minute you turn it up you realise it was, and is, the purest of club music.

Though they sounded slick and were often looked down on by the rock establishment as “Sharon and Tracey music”, bands like Freeez were pushing the limits of electronic enhancement and digital clarity in sound, and many of those 1980s records were the very best sounding of their time. So rather than aim for updating, Peterson, Maunick and their team of extraordinary musicians and vocalists young and old have just aimed for the same perfection – and, incredibly, achieved it.

This is not chinstroking jazz. Quite the opposite: it’s absolutely hedonistic, celebratory, thrilling sound making for living in the moment to. Whether it’s snaking keyboard lines to float away into the air to, or rock solid electro-funk drums, every element here is focused on hitting your pleasure centres. And it makes absolute sense in the now, historically, too: right through 90s rave culture and on, there have been new generations who sampled or took influence from these sounds, and young DJs and producers echo them to this day. So for all its retroism, this is one of the – in many senses of the word – freshest albums you’ll hear this year.


Listen to "Lazy Days (featuring Emma Jean Thackray)" from STR4TASFEAR

These styles sounded slick and were often looked down on by the rock establishment as 'Sharon and Tracey music'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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