No More Normal
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South London DJ, musician and producer Swindle built his reputation in London’s nascent grime scene of the early 21st century. From his work on indie label Butterz through production work for Mahalia and Joel Culpepper, he has remained committed to his musical upbringing. As much at home constructing jazz lines as grinding out Grimy bass lines, he runs the gamut of modern black music.
To accompany him on his third album No More Normal he calls upon a roster stuffed full with names to be remembered. Which may lead you to imagine that it is a fragmented piece with numerous characters and sounds to accommodate over the course of its 11 tracks. You’d be wrong though, as this is a tour de force of musicality that is easily encompassed by the artist at the heart of the endeavor.
Immediately banishing any tabloid-led images of grime-influenced music, the opening track “What We Do” acts as a mission statement for the whole album. With a fine list of featured artists (Rider Shafique, P Money, D Double E and soul singer Daley) it also makes a plea to shun postcode wars and violence in favor of understanding and common bonds of humanity: “16 bars are more dangerous than the bullet . . . / Remember we are all brothers, whatever path we choose.”
It also sets the musical imprint for the remainder of the album, with prancing strings and fanfare-sounding horns alongside the swagger and bump of a funk-fueled hip hop groove. As well as these key tenets, a recurring theme lies in the production—there is the unmistakable hint of Kanye West inspired soulfulness. Luckily for us it is the Kanye of old, rather than, say, the sparsity of Yeezus.
It crops up on the frustratingly short “Get Paid” (which comes complete with lonesome jazz trumpet solo), in the backing refrain of the chorus to “Run Up” and in the euphoric, horn-filled joy that is “Coming Home.” Without trading any of his individuality, Swindle has captured the essence of those warm and welcoming beats and maximized the impact of them.
The shout out to East London on “Drill Work” comes with pounding horns and stabbing strings that echo the staccato gunfire that lurks menacingly deep in the mix. This is the solitary sojourn into what might be deemed the “usual” subject matter for a hip-hop or grime record and it retains greater power for that fact.
In addition to the fact that the majority of the songs come complete with funk-inspired grooves, there is another tip of the hat to late ‘70s and early ‘80s funk with the use of the talkbox on several songs. But Swindle doesn’t overuse it, instead opting to use it to add color to the compositions as well as piling on the feeling of unadulterated funk.
“Reach For The Stars” is a case in point. A low-slung G-Funk groove insinuates its way into your brain, with Andrew Ashong’s quality vocals for company ,but amongst the swampy bassline and talkbox, a delicate piano survives and somehow thrives. That it does is testament to the amazing balancing act that Swindle manages to pull off throughout the album.
Whichever way you turn there is something to catch the ear and intrigue the mind. On “Take It Back,” it is Kiko Bun’s soaring voice on the chorus to the undulating groove, while on “Coming Home” it is the swirling, psychedelic guitar work. The two highlights though come towards the end of the album. “California” has a slow-grind, rumbling bass line that endangers necks with its writhing funk, but from nowhere, a mariachi-like horn section bursts onto the scene, lending further drama to the paean to the west coast.
Penultimate track “Talk A Lot” may be limited lyrically (“You talk a lot but you ain’t sayin’ nothing, say something”), but musically it is far from that. Another bass line to remember spars with Eva Lazarus’ characterful voice and pizzicato strings before an epic jazz guitar solo rounds off things perfectly. It is heavenly.
It is fitting that the final words of the album, on “Grateful,” are the album’s title. It acts as a resolution from an artist of great talent to shun the obvious pathways, daring to forge a future with no boundaries. If this album is anything to go by, then it is a path well worth treading and, moreover, a path that will undoubtedly lead to more music to thrill the imagination and move the soul in the same way this album does.
Notable Tracks: "California" | “Coming Home” | "Talk A Lot"