Album review: Clean Bandit: New eyes

Album review: Clean Bandit: New eyes | Random J Pop

Clean Bandit is made up of DJ and producer brothers Jack and Luke Patterson, Celloist Grace Chatto and Violinist Milan Neil Amin-Smith. Jack and Luke are the knob twiddlers who love fusing dance music with classical, and Grace and Milan are the classically trained dance music lovers. Between them they create a sound which isn't new or revolutionary, but puts a new take on an existing genre which has gone under numerous guises and incarnations over the past 10 years. The foundations of this album are UK deep house and Garage. Everything about this album is uniquely UK. Only on Clean Bandit's break out smash hit "Rather be" is this elevated beyond being distinctly UK into being a bloody good pop record, one which has gained some traction in the US, and rightly so. It's one of the best pop records of 2014 and no matter what side of the Atlantic you sit on, there is no denying the chorus to this song. But it's a fleeting moment on their debut album, New eyes.

They put the sense of feeling and melody back into dance music and then texture it with the classical edge. Their smash hits "Rather be" and "Extraordinary" exercise this to the best effect on this album. At a time when dance music has become wholly cold, electronic and void of any real feeling, Clean Bandit's offerings feel warm and organic. Each song feels benign, as though you had heard it before and that you know it, although you can't recall where from. This is where New eyes shines.

New eyes features moments of brilliance, but they are too far and between. The later singles from this album have been stellar. But when spread across an album full of songs which sound indistinct from one another, they don't quite work and get bogged down by a selection of songs which feel bloated, despite there not being a great number of them. New eyes shows that Clean Bandit have great potential to deliver amazingly polished pop songs, but they need to hone their craft to a point where they can deliver this consistently, because there is so much filler on this album that I can not even recommend it. I would urge you to buy some of the singles without a second thought. But I would not be able to justify this album to anybody because the album cuts pale so starkly in comparison. The track-listing swings far too casually and extremely between the perfectly executed and the mediocre. What the group sold with their past 4 singles, isn't what you get across this whole album. There is too much of a disconnect between chart primed pop offerings such as "Rather be" and "Extraordinary", generic songs such as "A&E" which meander on and then the likes of "New eyes" which sticks out completely from everything else on the album with its Trap inspired snare set and 808s. Having variety is one thing, but these tracks don't sit well together. The track list feels as though its made up from songs which were all recorded at different points in Clean Bandits career, spanning from when they were unsigned up until the point they got a deal and an advance to finish and release an actual album. There is no uniformity.

The numerous guest features on this album also hurt it, as it causes the album to feel rather indistinct. Very few of the artists on this album are well known, which isn't a problem and would not pose as a problem if the songs were good. But it does give the album a slightly Pure garage feel and somewhat kills the uniformity of the album. This album would have worked better if the group had limited the guest features on the album. One too many of the songs feel as though they feature a vocal for the sake of featuring a vocal, when in fact the song would have worked better as an instrumental, as the production on every song is strong enough to stand on its own.

Songs such as "Rather be", "Dust clears" and "Extraordinary" highlight the group at its best. Showcasing Jack and Luke's exquisite production and their ability to fuse dance and classical music in a way which feels symbiotic and organic. They cut across from the harsh electronics of EDM and much of the uptempo tripe that has been surging in popularity as of late to deliver songs which feel sweet on the ear and pleasing.

New eyes does just enough that it sparks intrigue of what the group could do if they really channelled their focus and if they were able to attract bigger names. "Rather be" reminded me so much of Mariah Carey's "Emotions" that it made me think of what the likelihood would be of her doing a song with them and recapturing Mariah during her Emotions, Music box and Daydream eras. "Dust clears" felt like something that Capsule would do. Dance music has always been a trans-genres in terms of unifying different cultures and languages, so I wouldn't find it so far fetched for Clean Bandit to do a song with a Japanese or Korean artist. Something with Verbal? Something with 2NE1? Something with BoA? Hikaru Utada even? But my point here isn't to say that 'big names make for better songs', it's more than it would be great to see Clean Bandit expand their circle of features and include artists who have more distinctness to them and can bring something to their productions, because 80% of the features on this album don't have a great deal of presence on the songs and they feel like non-entities - neither here nor there.

If Clean Bandit are able to refine their sound and narrow their scope of collaborators, they could deliver something special. This album shows glints of the possibilities, but the album is too bogged down for it to be anything more than a look at what could be.


Album highlights:
Extraordinary ★ J's fave
■ Dust clears
Rather be
■ New eyes

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