Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Basement Jaxx – Junto

When Basement Jaxx released ‘Raindrops’ in September 2009 as the first single to come from Scars, everybody listened. This…

 

When Basement Jaxx released ‘Raindrops’ in September 2009 as the first single to come from Scars, everybody listened. This was partly because Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe’s post-The Singles target audience were newly 18 and desperately needed another club-ready and hook-up-worthy Matric rage anthem, having heard Will.I.Am sing ‘I Gotta Feeling’ exactly one million times since May of the same year. But ‘Raindrops’ was more than timely. It proved that a three year absence following Crazy Itch Radio didn’t jeopardise the London-grown dance gurus’ relevance. Burton’s uber-auto-tuned voice and a new psychedelic sample palette were truly authentic; nobody had heard Basement Jaxx sound so fresh before, and everybody was expecting them to disappear into fifth-album anonymity. They didn’t. 

Now its August 2014, and Basement Jaxx’s seventh studio album, Junto, has no ‘Raindrops’ to save them. It’s the duo’s first full-length album in five years and their most anticlimactic in history. While Junto’s delay shouldn’t get too much flack (they did release the would-be double album Scars and Zephyr within two months of one another), the album’s unremarkable blandness makes an half a decade wait seem all the more displeasing. “Lords, Ladies and Low-lives, welcome to the world of Basement Jaxx” are the first words that Junto speaks, announced by one of Burton and Ratcliffe’s many animatronic female vocal characters on ‘Intro.’ About time. Now show me to this world you speak of where Lords and Ladies and Low-lives all dance together in sweaty, uninhibited bliss! But where’s the pizazz, where’s the sassiness of ‘Oh My Gosh’ and otherworldly buzz of ‘Where’s Your Head At’? Basement Jaxx’s trump card was their ability to turn wallflowers and house-haters into Ejoe Wilson on the dance floor, even if only for three trance-like minutes. ‘Intro’, a five year delay since and Zephyr, and the Basement Jaxx legacy generally all promised this magic once again, but on Junto these promises ring hollow with the sound of mismatched, techno-spoiled marimbas. 

The most basic and self-evident function of house music is escapism. It provides a conclusive reason for anyone to manifest their lost and found hopes, everyday angst and base human desires into rapturous movement, and this is surely no truer than of the fertile London 1980s garage house scene from which Basement Jaxx grew. What’s more, falling just short of one hour, Junto could serve as a ready-to-go DJ set. But each smack, buzz, rise and fall between ‘Power to the People’ to ‘Love is at Your Side’ takes place outside of its listeners, leaving them unenthusiastically listening to a dance party take place next door instead of feeling one right on top of them; the music does keep on playing, on and on, but you’re just not there.  

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But Junto’s downfall isn’t limited to its ineffectiveness. Even having broken down its walls, one is met with Junto’s lyrical and compositional weaknesses. Admittedly, dance music has never been praised for its lyrical complexity, save for a generous defining of Crystal Castles as dance music and and even more generous defining of Alice Glass’s delirious reflections as complex. Even so, platitudes like “the sky is not the limit” on ‘We Are Not Alone’ and “never say never” on ‘Never Say Never’ appear too often on Junto to excuse them as part-and-parcel of an innocent dance album. Indeed, the lyric “life is an enigma / love is at your side” on ‘Love Is at Your Side’ reinforces exactly why it’s best to “lose your self in the music” as the prophet of our generation, Marshal Mathers, so aptly expressed the year after Rooty was released. 

When we follow Eminem’s advice, Junto leaves slightly more to dance about. ‘Buffalo’ is an innovative acid-rap collaboration with Mykki Bianco, owing something to Tyler the Creator’s ‘Tamale‘ and a characteristic tempo raise. ’Power To the People’ sounds like bold millennium-throwback, taking its listeners to some ridiculous place in-between a gospel anthem and those catchy samba presents found after the 115 mark on 1980s Casiotones. The albums’ first single, ‘Unicorn’ charters similar territory, but Junto’s strong world-music feel is most evident on ‘Rock this Road’ and ‘What’s the News.’ However, while these sounds give it universality that can’t be claimed by any of Basement Jaxx’s previous six efforts, the only reason that the likes of ‘Mermaid of Salinas’ stops short of blatant musical appropriation is its inaccuracy. Not convinced? “When on the planes of Africa / We’ll be soaring like eagles” is simply too embarrassing to ignore, even if it were heard through a forcefield of gin and tonics and neon lights at a nightclub in Brixton. These misnomers would all be forgiven, as they have been before, if Burton and Ratcliffe had justified them with even half the chakra-shaking dance power of Rooty or Remedy. Alas, Junto remains a boring and mismanaged blip on Basement Jaxx’s otherwise impeccable musical record. 

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