Available on: XL LP
As easy as it is for people to get overexcited about the prospect of Jamie Smith and Gil Scott-Heron’s We’re New Here, an album dedicated to the former (drummer and producer for the xx) remixing the most recent album by the latter (you presumably already know who he is), I’m New Here, it’s also easy to be sceptical. The original I’m New Here was a isolationist, dark, electronic album that heavily utilised sparseness and silence – exactly the same qualities that the xx’s album made its name on. So what does combining the two really add? Luckily, Smith sidesteps this question by filling We’re New Here with some of his most soulful, bright work yet.
In fact, the relationship between xx and We’re New Here is a lot like that between Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint; the themes – sadness, resignation – are often the same, but the lighting is worlds apart. Like xx, Reasonable Doubt is constantly candle-lit, viewed through smoke-filled rooms and mottled memories, while The Blueprint relies on larger-than-life soul samples to tug your heartstrings.
We’re New Here’s lead single, ‘NY is Killing Me’ is a bit of a red herring in that aspect. It’s tight and claustrophobic, but the majority of the album’s not like that – Smith rarely chops his samples too tight, letting them breathe air and life into the music, and he clearly has a sensitive ear for EQing, leaving each instrument to rattle and reverb in the most natural way without the results ever getting muddy. Like The Blueprint, this album sports an big cast without relying on feature spots – voices usually sampled from old records, sometimes contributed by Smith’s xx bandmates and Swedish band jj – but they’re all working to the beat of one very driven director, with one of the best muses you could ever hope to have the chance to manipulate. Scott-Heron’s the star here, and you get the impression Smith wouldn’t want it any other way, but the moments where he lets his own agenda sit at the forefront (such as that Rui di Silva sample) represent some of the record’s most endearing.
The result is some of the most natural, breezy (you know, without being Mr. Scruff or whatever) dance music of the year; so breezy, in fact, that it’s easy to let it pass over you. If there’s one criticism to be made of this record, it’s a lack of memorability that comes with that, but its strongest moments, particularly the incredible closer ‘I’ll Take Care Of U’, should stay with both xx and Scott-Heron fans for a long while.