Sunday, 29 January 2012

THE NEW LAW - The Fifty Year Storm

American duo Adam Straney & Justin Neff have made quite a name for themselves in their brief musical career amidst the gently intimate limelight that is downtempo-orientated trip-hop. Like their fellow two-man predecessors - Bent, Thievery Corporation and Tosca to name a few - the Seattle-based producers have managed to unearth an organically balanced concoction of instrumental melodies, delicate vocals and processed beats.

In 'High Noon', the duo explored the narrow bustling avenues of hip-hop and electronica, all of which, conjured up in a fluid fusion of jazz and downtempo harmonies. Their third album, 'The Fifty Year Storm' takes a break from its jazzy construct, moving its geographic sway this time away from the western hemisphere of influence. Comprising of thirteen tracks, of which all vary in length and overall construct, one would be forgiven to expect the album takes a lot more experimental and improvisational turn than their previous releases. But where the duo continue to follow in facading a sense of surreality and mystification, it is their influences and change in direction that takes charge of these compositions. For better, and for worse.

'I've Seen Some Mean Faces', the album's opener unveils this with little hesitation, the album's signature change of eastern guitar strings and deep-bass percussion rolling on a heavily refined mix of break-offs and unrolling mumbles. 'Get Your Gun' likewise drifts through the sandy rustling of beats atop a muddle of string arrangements. The pace is straightforwardly intense, very little pause for breath ever present. 'Voyage' and 'Constellations' though give gentle nods to their previously less-energetic chillout material, the overall direction of sound leans more towards a sense of formulaic exploration, over differing experimentation.

It's only halfway through the record that we depart from the sandstorm and the desert of eastern sound, that we venture into 'Opium Den', a more open composition out-pushing its hip-hop beats and melodic layering between the keys and chords of a piano. Here, the struggle; the rummage of control feels anxiously nervy, almost unsettling as the track progresses.

'Blood Red Sky' on the contrary fixes this, the drastic beating of piano keys and shuddering drums maintaining the status quo of previous tracks. 'Three Sheets To The Wind', returning to the nurtured vibe of eastern music here, demonstrates a more successful execution of this east-meets-west fusion. And considering it stands as the album's shortest track, it makes its simple use of sampled horn instrumentation and wavering electronics, that much more memorable.

Later tracks, however, appear to signal a lack of idea-generation and, maybe, motivation to excel the choice of sound's overall execution. 'Descent Into Fire' starts with a brief strum of guitar strings - passionately-rattling percussion leading on into the track's main body of sound. Here though is where the track loses near all its mystery and previously-established passion, a breakbeat-esque beat and cloud of vocals hidden almost secretly at the back of the mix appearing to whitewash the entirety of the song's vibe. The final self-titled composition, following on from this, feels less thought-over, all the album's natural and geographic flow melting away into a concretive guessing of synth machines, work stations and titled 30-second loops.

This field of instrumental music - downtempo trip-hop, instrumental chillout hip-hop, whatever genres you want to take a pick at - will always run the risk of falling flat on its face. Regardless of its background influences and foreground detailing, it's always a challenge to create an intrigue from something built on loops and sampling. It could be that THE NEW LAW simply haven't found their ideal place in this genre yet. It's not a total sink into wild waters - they've already displayed remarkable levels of constructive instrumentation on both their previous record and on this - but concerning the bigger picture of 'The Fifty Year Storm', maybe it's best they leave the eastern World away from the DAWs, at least for the time being.


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