Rumours of a collaboration between sixty one year old Gil Scott-Heron, American author, poet and musician and Jamie Smith from Mercury Award winning band The xx began early last year, before it was officially confirmed that Smith would indeed remix the whole of Gil Scott-Heron’s 2010 LP I’m New Here. It initially struck me as somewhat of an odd idea but the more I thought about it, the idea of making a primarily dance based record based around Heron’s incredibly distinctive voice, the more I was intrigued by it.
Scott-Heron and Smith may be generations apart and musically considerably different but the first thing to say about We’re New Here is that despite their differences the record works incredibly well. Essentially the album sees Smith completely strip the soul and jazz music that accompanied Scott-Heron on 2010’s original and replace it with dark and futuristic beats, glitchy synths and pounding drums. On the original album, it was Scott-Heron’s voice that was the focal point of the record, his gruff, gravelly vocal doing the talking rather than lo-fi background soul music. On We’re New Here Smith has turned this on its head; making full use of Scott-Heron’s voice but this time as a tool to link together his production and beats, making them the main focus of attention for the listener.
The production itself throughout the record is versatile and varied, with a wide range of musical styles on display; dub, garage, drum n bass, house and even old school rave are all audible throughout the album, all interwoven together rather splendidly by Scott-Heron’s voice. The strongest moments come courtesy of the two tracks that have already been released and both come at the end of the record, a wonderful conclusion and climax to an eclectic yet remarkably cohesive LP. ‘NY Is Killing Me’ is introduced perfectly by the piano melody before being completely transformed into a genuine monster of a track, a dark and paranoid masterpiece that will surely slay many dance floors in months to come. The record then finishes with ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’, tender and euphoric in equal measure, a beautifully constructed five minutes and a fitting way to end.
It’s perhaps worth pointing out that fans of either artist may not appreciate the collaboration, as the songs themselves are fairly far removed from either The XX or Scott-Heron’s back catalogue, but that aside this is a fascinating and varied piece of work. Smith comes across as a confident and assured producer. Illustrating an extensive knowledge of electronic and dance music and using this knowledge to craft not only a fitting tribute to Gill Scott-Heron, an artist Smith obviously admires a great deal, but also an original, interesting and great record in its own right.
From Alex Walker.