There are numerous and varying essences which make a great record, elements which create an escape or certainly a potent diversion from everyday issues and drudgery. There are some which go even further, capturing the imagination as forcibly as ears and emotions whilst taking the listener into a landscape that is familiar in some and many ways to their own personal life’s scenery. These are the standout moments in music and FM is without doubt one of those. The third album from UK reggae/dub quartet The Skints, the release is a fascinating and seriously thrilling adventure, an encounter from the band drawing on their own personal pleasures growing up and in turn connecting with the listener’s. FM is an inescapable thrill fuelled by fun, fierce enterprise, and ridiculously contagious imagination…oh there are some rather bewitching sounds involved too.
Following on from their previous acclaimed albums, Breathe. Build. Believe. and Part & Parcel, of 2009 and 2012 respectively, FM is a tantalising proposition which in some ways can be described as a concept album. The release from the East London quartet of Jon Doyle (bass), Marcia Richards (keys/sax/flute/melodica/vocals), Jamie Kyriakides (drums/vocals), and Josh Waters Rudge (guitar/vocals), takes the listener into the heart of an imaginary London pirate radio station, The Big FM / Frequency Murderation, 103.Skints. Across its length we are entertained by four radio shows with the DJ Mr Versatile Breakfast Show, the alter-ego of Tippa Irie, setting the album’s broadcast off. The release is a tribute to the radio culture the band and indeed we have all loved as music fans, whatever our tastes, an ‘education’ and experience arguably lost in the modern internet age. FM is quite simply spellbinding in premise and invention, the songs finding The Skints at another creative plateau yet unafraid to give a nod to their early inspirations and own rawer sound whilst weaving diverse tapestries from roots reggae, dub, rocksteady, punk, Motown, grime, garage, and soul plus much more.
FM is summer in one excitable embrace and instantly steals ears and passion with This Town which follows the opening Breakfast Show skit. Featuring Tippa Irie and Horseman, the song is an immediate seduction. Vocals caress ears as guitar and pulses stroke with equally engaging intrigue. It is potent bait swiftly given greater colour by the irresistible tones of Marcia Richards. The song has attention and appetite instantly in its hands right away as a skittish air only adds to its compelling aural smile. London life has never been so warmly and magnetically shown but it is just the start. Both guests add their distinctive and captivating vocal adventures to the invigorating stroll, it all leading to a croon of a chorus which surely no one can resist. The track is spellbinding leaving a huge grin on heart and face and pleasure ready for what is to follow.
In The Night steps in next, its melodies and harmonies gliding over the senses, serenading ears with aural poetry. Elegant and reflective, the song also shows a darker yet unthreatening side, Horseman again adding his rich deep tones as energies brew heavier attitude around him. Imagine By The Rivers meets The Clash and you get a sense of the great contrasts colluding in beauty, though admittedly not the real uniqueness of the offering. Its mesmeric elegance is followed by Come To You, a summery waltz in ears with Richards as vocally enchanting as the pop bred melodies and steamy prods of keys and guitar. You can easily visualise or imagine a video of the song such its cinematic air, for us the singer spreading her melodic romance from the open carriage of a London park situated steam train, its wheels dancing around a track in the sultry heat of summer.
The excellent My War brings a darker edge to the release, the song a cover of the Black Flag track. It is still a fascinating melodically enhanced invitation but has a snarl to its voice and attitude lined swing that breeds an additional intriguing edge to the provocative narrative and shadows. The track is the end of the first show, Dancehall Dilemmas with Dr. Ranking Pegasus (aka. Horseman) opening up the stations next clutch of offerings. Featuring a ‘call from listener Danny’ it evolves into the excellent Friends & Business, another song with an addictive swagger and punchy rhythmic enticing commanding feet and passions with consummate ease. Ska bred with a soulful nature to its heart and vocals, the track also has a mischievous almost vaudeville moment which only adds to the addiction spawned by the slice of rock pop.
Both the feisty sway and swing of Where Did You Go? and the more serious presence of Tazer Beam keeps album and listener aflame with invention and pleasure. The first is yet another call of the summer with intimate melodies and irresistible rhythmic and percussive lures courted by bewitching vocal prowess across the band. As with many songs by The Skints, you feel you know the proposition ahead of ears yet everything about it is fresh and unpredictable, a skill sparking greater lustful reactions. The second of the two songs, explores a darker and grittier premise, looking at gun and associated violence on both sides of street culture. Tippa Irie returns to bring his pungent style to the immersive tones of song and band, contrasts again sublimely crafted in sound and lyrical expression by the band.
After the melodic spell of The Forest For The Trees, sorcery of vocals from across the band kissing ears as words and reggae honed strokes work on the imagination, the Grime Hour With Rivz (aka MC Rival) welcomes Eyes In The Back Of My Head. Also featuring the ‘DJ’, the track almost prowls ears, the hip hop incitement of Rival an alluring and compelling protagonist against the similarly imposing sounds surrounding his spits. Tempering it though, keys and vocals from the band bring their own smouldering seduction; whilst seemingly inspired by the tense streets being explored, the guitar reveals noir lit drama in its creative designs. The track gets under the skin, constantly evoking thoughts and emotions before Got No Say provides its own distinctive and individual flirtation of eagerly simmering keys, siren-esque melodies, and another thrilling and adventurous vocal union. In many ways the song might be the most pop of them all on FM, though as ever it never allows itself to settle into one singular premise of sound.
DJ Mr. Versatile Evening Session is the final show of the broadcast and gives us the mouth-watering beauty of Tomorrow. The song epitomises everything impressive about The Skints. Songwriting alone as enchanting and immersive as the melodies and imagination fuelling every slice of ingenuity held within FM. We have obviously repeatedly mentioned the thrilling melodies and harmonies which ignite songs, but have to also point out the dark throbbing lines cast by Doyle’s bass, the instrument and its dramatic strings perpetually casting additional theatre within the tracks.
It is a masterful end to a stunning release. The band’s previous albums were the mark of a band persistently finding new heights and depths in its sound and invention. Now FM is yet another landmark for not only The Skints but indeed reggae seeded ingenuity as a whole.
FM is available from March 9th via Easy Star Records @ http://easystarrecords.shop.musictoday.com/Dept.aspx?cp=115_68927 and digitally https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/fm/id962280939
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