Monday, 18 May 2009

REVIEW: Two Fingers - Two Fingers

Let us get this out of the way up front, I am no expert in either the fields of hip hop or the various offshoots of the genre I round up under 'electronica' on my iPod. I have dabbled in each area for well over ten years, so I hold some touchstones. My meat and potatoes, bread and butter, or whatever other basic culinary analogy you care to throw this way, lies in rock, metal, and indie music, however. It was with a mixture of curiosity, adventure, and mild hesitancy, then, that I approached the debut album from Amon Tobin, Doubleclick, and featuring Sway, collectively labelling themselves Two Fingers.

Thankfully it appears that the creators were equally concious of the sense of adventure and pioneering spirit going into this effort, with their main site labelling this "a project unlike anything that any of the three main players has ever made before". Amon Tobin is a Brazilian beat merchant whose music I have been ever so slightly exposed to over the years. His electronica is characterised by minimalist, intricate beats, at least where I have come across it. Doubleclick is a UK producer and jungle/D&B musician named Joe Chapman, whilst Sway may be more well known, being as he is a UK MOBO Award winner. It sounds like a diverting prospect with plenty of possibilities for collaboration......and so it proves to be.

Initially, the overwhelming feeling I came away with was one of a point missed. I was perhaps expecting a much more instrumental effort with fewer lyrical outings, yet the album is peppered with appearances from various guest vocalists including Ms. Jade, Ce Cile, and Kevin Tuffy. These, in addition to the dominating flow of the aforementioned Sway, give a first impression that roots the record primarily in the UK grime scene, by way of more popular hip hop/R&B. Not that I cannot appreciate such styles but I had been hoping for something more genre-bending. As it happens, the adventure I was seeking is certainly present, it just requires a more in depth listen than a loud subway and low volume permit.

Upon donning some decent headphones and exploring further, the winding beats of Tobin and driving energy of Chapman are the foundation for everything going on vocally here. In general, the vocal performances are the least interesting part of the album, although they of course add meaning to the songs and lend them a more accessible nature for anyone less concerned with the moving parts underneath. On opener Straw Men, clicks, samples, and understated bass beats all weave their way skillfully around each other, as Sway delivers a sermon on urban UK life and the false image thereof. More impressive is the following What You Know, an album highlight that perhaps best melds the inputs of each contributor into a dissection of criminality and the comparative justifications in a developed(?) country like the UK versus the developing world. The message is delivered with police samples and an energy that suggests being on the run from the law, like a vastly subtler and more literate cousin to Dizzee Rascal's Sirens.

Better Get That follows and sees the first female vocal of the effort from Ms. Jade. Whilst delivered with a strong attitude and energy, the song does feel somewhat cliched and doesn't sit as well with the style of the opening one-two. Further into the album, Chapman's jungle influences really begin to kick in on That Girl, with its tribal percussion style beat. Without being an outstanding track, it does represent all that is exciting about the styles each contributor is bringing to the table and offers the instrumentation a chance to take the spotlight, previously occupied chiefly by the vocals. Jewels and Gems adds a bit of a light heartedness to proceedings, what with its opening skit and the Eastern flavour running through it, although there is a deeper spirtual subject lying somewhere within as well. Bad Girl follows, featuring Ce Cile, offering a much more refined R&B style vocal that fits comfortably with the laid back beats upon which it sits.

After spending more and more time with Two Fingers, the album becomes unexpectedly addictive and worthy of repeat listens. This is partially down to the depth of sonic layering brought by Tobin and Chapman, but also helped by the accessibility that the vocal performances lend to many of the songs. There exists so much variety on the album that the various tempos and styles come together to form a diverse listening experience. At times this does fall flat and break up the flow of the album, evident on tracks like Better Get That and High Life, but on balance it offers more to the whole than it detracts.

Sometimes the old adages are appropriate. In the case of Two Fingers, patience certainly is a virtue. Persevere - at least if hip hop/grime would usually not be your first choice of listening - with the album beyond the first few listens, spend some time focusing on the carefully crafted beats that form the crucial elements of the outing, and the virtues really shine through to reward the effort. Even if this may not end up being a widely popular album of 2009, it certainly qualifies as one of the most intriguing of the year and one worthy of acknowledgement by anyone with an appreciation for music that moves outside the boundaries of its own comfortable genres.

Official Site / Myspace

MP3: Two Fingers - What You Know
Taken from the self titled album out now

Buy it at Insound!

Now playing: Amon Tobin - Bloodstone
via FoxyTunes

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