Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx-We’re New Here
Release Date: February 21, 2011
Record Label: XL Recordings/Young Turks
Crossovers in two vastly differing musical styles like is attempted between Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx (of The xx fame) are usually targeted towards a specific niche market, but it is difficult from the initial outset to think who would exactly buy this record. Gil Scott-Heron is a movement and entity all on his own. His first album appeared over forty years ago in the form of Small Talk at 125th and Lenox and since then he has pushed and blurred the boundaries between poetry, spoken word, blues, hip-hop, and American soul in every direction possible. Unfortunately, he had one of the highest falls from grace too with incessant drug use and jail stints nearly bringing the legend to his end. The xx on the other hand are the fresh faced night time driving genre defining newbies from post-industrial England. Their 2009 debut album has been widely acclaimed as one of the best debuts in the last number of years with their blend of predominantly slow dark pop music being highly refined for a first effort. So why exactly was this album produced you ask? I am initially not sure.
For every remix album that succeeds, ninety-nine others must fall flat on their face. It’s common mathematics. “Jamie xx” as he wants you to call him, takes the deep voice of Gil Scott-Heron and applies the distinct sounds of The xx but with a twist. The twist is that the sounds and instruments used on this remix album have chilling Jamaican influences with quivering strings, wood percussion and Jamaican tin-drum beats all making appearances. I would apprehensively title it a reggae infusion on a more dance orientated xx sound. On Gil’s first release in 16 years I’m New Here (2010), some notable artists made appearances with Kanye West samples and Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz fame popping up on keyboards. His sound was now geared towards being more accessible to modern day listeners and Jamie xx continues this process of increased accessibility on this project. On opener “I’m New Here” Gil’s lone voice welcomes the re-redemption project “I did not become something different, that I did not want to be. But I’m new here. Will you show me round?” The steady beat kicks in and a haunting female voice provides contrast to his own dark beastly voice.
The stand out track of the project is easily “NY is Killing Me” with the alarming but somewhat soothing trance beat stringing the listener along. The passionate vocals of Scott-Heron are not the main attraction on this track, unlike almost every other song on the record, as the beat is beyond infectious and into another realm altogether. The track is easily the most manic from the chilled out project. “I’ll Take Care of U” makes the best use of the impressive tin drum sound and is a pleasant track from start to finish. The mid section of the track provides a remix stint of Gil’s snarling half singing laugh being looped back on itself, but to be honest it is not a million miles away from the piano and string led original track. Other stand out efforts include “Running” which is more fragmented and R’n’B influenced than the rest of the songs and “My Cloud” provides a dreamlike interpretation of the original I’m New Here b-side. Throughout the thirteen track album there are numerous interludes which are bridging pieces between the songs, and most of these work, but perhaps are a bit needless. It is on one of these interludes that Gil reveals his view of Jazz music to be the original dance music. There is one to get your head around.
The album is effectively a new take on the rejuvenated old soul that is Gil Scott-Heron, and will be enjoyed for a good few months at least. There is nothing detrimental to either of the artist’s careers happening here but the effort is really, really pleasant, if somewhat not overly needed. Get your hands on it, lie back and give it a spin.