It’s always strange going back to times that were either emotionally or humanely significant to us through something else than merely remembering. It is shocking, even, how scents, tastes, sounds, déja vu or anything else can take us back to or at least make us remember our long-gone dreams, hopes and feelings of the time. Remember ourselves, essentially. I’m not planning to elaborate on this issue, you can google the word madelaine and Marcel Proust. What Mr. Proust couldn’t possibly have written about though is Kosheen’s fourth album, the aptly titled Independence. Which appears to be my little piece of madeleine. But does it taste good?
It is certainly not the easiest task for me to write about an effort by Kosheen since this British lot was the one to make me open my eyes to good music and they started what eventually has become what it is today: me, a music junkie writing a blog about records and news and keeping my ears open to new sounds. ‘Resist’ was my first walk, hug and kiss with popular music, my very first discovery. And may I even say looking back that it was a rather solid effort, certainly for a debut. It worked with some really nice acoustic intrumentation as well as electronica, most centrally of course, drum and bass. It truly is an album about which I would definitely write a chapter in my long-planned 31 Songs-like book. The sophomore, Kokopelli was an even greater undertaking with deep lyrics and an interesting mix of pop, rock and huge electronic soundscapes with a much, much darker twist – those who remember such blasters like ‘Avalanche’, ‘Wish’ or ‘Recovery’ know those tracks are rare gems. After Kokopelli my musical attention turned to other directions and by the time ‘Damage’ came out the letdown was not as huge for me as it could’ve been. What happened to Kosheen can be most easily described as laziness. A sort of agreement on genres and the boundaries thereof. Kosheen wanted to become a dance-pop/electro-pop band and so they did. Call their adopted style anything you want, it does not really matter, the point is that Kosheen saw three or four waves in electronic music with which they wanted to resonate and not alter them or get crossover. That is why to this day I can name two, possibly three songs off ‘Damage’ that more or less stood out and are relevant today as well: the title track, ‘Marching Orders’ and maybe ‘Overkill’ with its surprisingly clever guitar work.
So that’s how things have lead up to their fourth album. Their fourth album in 10-11 years. This is quite a long time and if you look at the trends, a decade is something after which most of the bands and musicians take the excuse of releasing best of compilations to show their line of development. What do ‘not-most-of-the-bands’ do? Record an album which shows how far they’ve got, with new songs and with an organic unity, their quintessence. Kosheen is not most-of-the. Which in itself is a treasure.
For starters, the artwork for ‘Independence’ sort of references the aesthetics of ‘Kokopelli’ which is of course really nice (albeit the typeface of the band’s name looks tragic in my view) but make no mistake, this is no nostalgia. The album kicks off with ‘Addict’ which shows how great Kosheen’s production can be if they do not think in genres but think in sounds and ideas. A great pulsing bassline and those lead synths alongside Sian Evans’s singing could send shivers down anybody’s spine. ‘Get A New One’ follows which for the first time I heard at the opening of the new terminal at Budapest International Airport and that was the moment when I thought to myself that Kosheen might be back on track.
Get A New One is really a great radio-friendly electro-pop song with enjoyable hooks. Most of the 3-4 minute tracks are like that but what really saves the album of being called ‘another album by that British band’ is where they take the leap and let go of any efforts. Let it be ‘Zone 8’ with its mountain-huge bass drops reminiscent of the Tech Itch era or the entire second half of the album for that matter, beginning with the simply awesome ‘Mannequin’ which definitely brings back the vibe every hardcore fan thought was long lost. What previously had been accelerated by the electro songs and the pounding rhythms of ‘Dependency’, ‘Tightly’ or ‘Manic’ is put to rest by songs like the Dungeon Mix of ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and ‘Waste’.
So ‘Independence’ is mostly a solid electro album and partly a vastly enjoyable rollercoaster ride composed of drum and bass, lounge and house with pieces of rock-like guitar work and production in which Kosheen have truly summarized what their name meant and mean today and with a glimpse on the future and I personally wish them well. Not only because of the good memories but also because of the great prospects.