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Return to the Ugly Side
Malachai Return to the Ugly Side
Released 25 February 2011
Producer Scott Hendy
Label Double Six
Length 35:04
Genre Electronic
Website malachai.tv

Because they claim to have been discovered by Geoff Barrow, it would be easy to think of Malachai as a trip-hop band. It would be easy to see them as fans of that early ‘90s Bristolian atmosphere of underground jazz, hip-hop and new wave that spawned Massive Attack and Portishead. However, such a prejudice is not borne out by Return to the Ugly Side. If the opening 'Monsters' is reminiscent of anything, it’s reminiscent of the imaginary soundtracks composed by Barry Adamson.

Adamson, who served time with Magazine and The Bad Seeds, has carved an idiosyncratic path for himself composing music that tends towards colouring mental landscapes. The same can be said of certain songs on this album. 'Monsters', 'Monster', and 'Snake Eyes' feel as though they should soar in accompaniment to action on the silver screen.

However, this is not the only type of music Malachai play. There is a strong strain of psychedelica running through certain tracks. Tracks such as 'Anne' and '(My) Ambulance' have vocals akin to 'I Am the Walrus', and guitars squalls lifted from Screamadelica. The changing nature of their guitar playing alternates from the bell-swinging thrust in 'The Don’t Just', to the down-tuned grunge of 'Mid Antarctica (Wearin’ Sandals)', to the distortion of 'Let ‘Em Fall' and 'No More Rain No Maureen'. This distortion is at its most interesting in the closing arachnid canter of 'HyberNation' [sic], with its echo effects and sci-fi noises.

The drumming is just as polymorphic: tribal and persistent on 'Distance', Latin and loose on 'In the Hole'. In one way, this represents an unabashed confidence in musicianship, but it generates an incoherent album. Such a smorgasbord of styles and sounds does not meld together as it would on a trip-hop album. Rather, it creates a selection box of music where no one song is disappointing, but where all the songs tend to compete for attention. Given a focus, there’s no doubt that Malachai could create a strong album. As it stands, Return to the Ugly Side is an album of songs with nothing holding them together.

- Paul McGranaghan