‘The continually infectious sound makes you want to be involved in The Heist.’
Intro to The Kubricks
If you want to listen to something that stands out for all the right reasons, look no further than Essex/London based band The Kubricks. Truth be told until now ska music hasn’t really been on my radar, however, if ‘The Heist’ and indeed their wealth of other releases are anything to go by, it definitely will be now. Putting an immensely modern spin on a Madness-eqsue sound, their tracks are immersive and infectious in equal measure. Read more at: Behind the Music: Interview with The Kubricks
Featured Track 1: The Heist
Opening the album in an incredibly atmospheric way, a harmon muted, smokey sounding jazz trumpet line emerges. Is this the backstreets where the heist is taking place? I certainly think so and set to a sustained accompaniment, there is real anticipation in the track. However, while it may start in an almost cinematic way, a stylish combination of ska infused rhythms and atmospheric samples creates the perfect backing to the prominent trombone line which follows. Suddenly the sense of anticipation has shifted to one of excitement.
Seamlessly developing into a more relentless sound via the introduction of more electronic beats, the track really takes off from where it began mere moments ago. Put simply, it becomes chaotic. But what incredibly musical chaos it is. Have they just carried out the heist? Or is it just beginning? Either way, it certainly feels like they are on the run.
Having almost reached the halfway point, the first vocal lines enter. Projected in a half spoken manner, the initial lyrics of ‘I don’t know what you want to be tonight,’ feel incredibly enticing and as we are told that ‘we’ve got to do this now,’ you feel like you really are part the musically infectious adventure. However, while the infectiousness of the accompaniment is strong, the chorus sees an equally earworm inducing vocal hook emerge.
Formed of the lyrics ‘Will be living up, when we’ve given it up,’ you can’t fail to get swept up in the energetic nature of the track. However, not content with this, as the track progresses, a multitude of call-and-response ideas combine with trombone improvisations, evil sounding brass and unexpected additional percussion. It’s ridiculously high musicality and in turn, an opener which sets the bar ridiculously high.
Featured Track 2: Hold Us Down
Given the track’s title, you may well expect this second track to be a musically powerful sound. But it isn’t. Well not in a true sense. Instead, the tempo is much slower and therefore the feel is more relaxed. This said, there is most definitely a point to be made and while the instrumental accompaniment may be more ‘low-key,’ the emphasis on being ‘held down’ is shouted from the rooftops.
Produced in a way that sounds like it’s being transmitted through an old radio, the opening fragment melodies create an intriguing atmosphere. It’s certainly a departure from the opener – especially given the statement like announcement of guest vocalist ‘Horseman’ – however the use of more tropical sounding vocals ensures it retain its musical roots.
Having moved through the initial lyrics, the first verse sees the real message coming to the fore. Perfectly matching the established atmosphere, the megaphone affected lyrics of ‘Oi you, looking at me’ have more than a hint of aggression in them. Immediately there is a sense of conflict and control. More importantly though, the lyrics talk of being controlled and as they become increasingly powerful, there is no doubting where the we should be focusing.
Continuing in this way, an unexpectedly catchy chorus, formed of the vocal hook ‘Everybody wants to hold us down’ is reached and everyone is informed that The Kubricks will ‘take this town.’ Equally unexpectedly, the accompanying textures develop, bringing a more regular sound. This said, there still isn’t the full-on instrumental sound you may expect but, with us firmly focused on the vocal, it’s hardly missed. Incase you were missing it though, following a society-centre third verse performed by guest vocalist Alex Osiris, an increasingly powerful sound takes hold. Finding the perfect balance between power and musicality, it’s just as strong as the opener.
Featured Track 3: Down with the Dogs
Seeming to combine the influences of the previous tracks, Track 3 ‘Down with the Dogs’ opens with a combination of sampled barks, sustained harmony and truly sung vocals. Weird right? Definitely. But somehow it just works and as a multi-tracked vocal containing what is to become a recurring lyric of ‘living in the city’ interrupts, the track heads in a highly contrasting direction.
Noticeably more harmony led, an interlocking organ and guitar chord sequence, set to a more regular drum beat, provides perfect accompaniment to an unapologetic high trombone line. Crying out above everything else, it’s an incredible sound but having transported us back to the backstreets, the atmosphere is soon to change.
Moving into the first verse, the emphasis on vocals established in the previous track becomes apparent once more. Harmonised throughout, the vocal musicality of The Kubricks really comes through and sitting on top of an infusion of reggae beats and riffs, it’s a wonderful sound. Pushing this further, the sections which follow see alternations of vocal styles and contrasting processing ensuring that, for the majority, the vocals sit centre stage.
However, this said, this is also a track which proves that the musicality of The Kubricks is everywhere. If you need proof of this, pick any verse or chorus and listen to the sophisticated way in which all the accompanying lines interlock. Need more? Listen to the final third of the track. Here, having been heavily lyric-focused until this point, a sublime, raspy-sounding trombone solo cuts through only to be followed by a musical montage of the tracks best elements. And by that I of course mean every element.
Featured Track 4: Better of Me
Taking us into a more technology-meets-ska influenced direction, Track 4 ‘Better of Me’ brings an immediate change to the sound. Heavily echoing, the single opening lyric of ‘Here’ rings around in a gently statement like way. Enhancing this further, the level of production shifts in gear and the result is a strange sounding, yet sophisticated soundscape. Of course, this is only the start and as a multitude of horn and pitch-bending synth lines combine, you know it’s going to be a great track.
Having initially maintained the style of half-spoken vocal throughout the first verse, the real musicality of The Kubricks continues to shine through. While it would be easy to continue with creating the full on sound of the previous tracks, the way the instrumentation is used is just as noticeable as the stylistic influences. Being much sparser for the verses – via the absence of the horn section – the focus remains very much on the vocal. However the chorus is a very different matter.
Working as the perfect transition between verse and chorus, the pre-chorus sees accented brass chords sit wonderfully between the lines of ‘We walk, we sit.’ It may seem a simple decision to add something back in that’s been successful before, but on reaching the full chorus, the level of cleverness becomes clear. Formed of interlocking fragment melodies, prominent bass lines and changes in percussive rhythms, the lyrics become increasingly stylishly enhanced, perfectly demonstrating the accomplished sound that The Kubricks have.
However, while there are, as you would expect, musical statements – in both the vocal and accompaniment – which return, don’t think this makes it a predictable listen. In fact, as the track heads towards its final section, the predictability is thrown out the window and as soulful uses of vocal harmony and an implied changes in tempo emerge, there is no chance of you losing interest.
Featured Track 5: Paradise
Sitting towards the end of the album, Track 10 ‘Paradise’ brings light relief both musically and literally, especially given the restrained-rave-esque ending of ‘Morning After.’ However, while the sound of the track immediately takes us away from the full-on ska influences heard elsewhere, this takes you to, well, reggae-based Paradise.
Piano and organ led from the outset, the all-together different vibe is one that sounds truly tropical. It’s a beautiful atmosphere (yes you read that right) and with its musically cheeky edge, a smile is brought to your face. There is even more to it than this though as this unassuming combination, along with developing percussion and warm sounding horn accents, sets up the vocal lines which are to come.
Bringing an increase in texture, the entrance of the main vocal – after a substantial, but immensely enjoyable introduction – transports us further toward the musical paradise within. Opening with ‘This town has never seen a better part of me’ there is clear connection to where the album began, but set to the heavily organ infused sound, the difference is clear. There is certainly no doubting that a true reggae feel has been secured and having done so, we head towards what could be classed as a restrained, strut-inducing chorus.
Compared to the other tracks on the album, and indeed the ones featured here, the chorus itself is one that doesn’t stand out at all. However, don’t think that this makes it any less successful. In fact, the way in which the groove-filled accompaniment allows for it to seamlessly transition, is exactly why it works perfectly. Add to this the recurring piano and horn lines from the opening and a guitar improvisation which oozes relaxation, and you realise the track may be restrained, but like the others, it’s immensely musical.
All tracks reviewed and the rest of ‘The Heist’ are available on iTunes now and you can find out more about the album at Behind the Music: The Kubricks