It’s a curious anomaly of the modern music scene that by the time artists get round to releasing their fourth albums, the majority of musicians are creatively spent.
Today, bands arrive fully formed, in a blizzard of frenzied hype. Their first work is heralded as a masterpiece, as, possibly, is their second, and, in the main, their resultant albums are subject to the law of diminishing returns.
Mercifully, that is not the case with Bent. Their stunning fourth album, Intercept!, is the sound of a band hitting top form. After seven years sculpting some of the most interesting music on the electronic/dance/ambient/house/call-it-what-you-bleedin’-like scene, Nail Tolliday and Simon Mills’ (the duo for whom Bent would seem to be a way of life) new album fizzes with a joyful dynamism, that while hinted at on their previous three albums (Programmed To Love, 2000; The Everlasting Blink, 2002; Ariels, 2004), has finally found its optimum expression. In short, it sounds like a band reborn.
“We just felt it was time to go down a new path,” Simon, he of the colourful hairstyles, explains. “We’ve not had a record company trying to guide us, so I feel like we’ve been a bit more in control of our output. So, yes, it does sound like a band reborn in some ways, but I still think it sounds Bent. It’s ‘Now That’s What I Call Bent, Vol 4’.”
Nail concurs: “Since we parted company with our old label we’ve felt as if we were almost starting again a bit, so even though it’s a bit scary, it’s quite exciting too.”
Like the best artists, this new vibrancy came as a result of reacting to their environment. Having emerged at the fag end of the 90s as an off-kilter production duo – all junk shop samples, wonky tracks and an infectious bonhomie, as exemplified on Programmed To Love – by the time they fashioned Ariels their sonic wanderlust had seen them transform into a band for whom playing live was no problem.
Thus playing gigs with the likes of Mylo and Faithless and seeing the reactions they provoked within the crowds they realised they wanted to up the tempo on Intercept!.
“We really wanted to make something that would work well live,” admits Simon. “Something that would make people dance rather than look up and stare. Our DJ sets are often very house/disco/electro/dodgy records, so we thought it was about time we made something that reflected our sets.”
Not only was this made possible by new software (“We bought a shit-hot computer last year,” Nail proudly proclaims), a human touch came to bare bountiful fruit too. Simon and Nail’s manager put them in touch with the singer/songwriter Simon Lord, formerly the frontman of the much missed, and hugely under-rated, psychedelic popsters Simian. They sent him some tracks to listen to and he got to work at a prolific rate.
“He came up to our studio in Nottingham a few times,” says Nail, “and we’d get a track together pretty much every time. It was perfect working with someone who also works so fast.”
The net result is the sparkling Intercept!, so-called because “we’ve come back in a new way, with a positive and almost aggressive attitude, so Intercept! seemed appropriate,” (Simon). The exclamation mark is because Simon and Nail are shouting their return.
As on previous albums, their music is rich in textures and manifold nuances that reveal themselves slowly, but it’s also characterised by an almost euphoric immediacy. The opening Exercise 7 – all space disco and sunshine-soaked house – is a case in point, as is the Balearic-evoking Stay Out All Night and the electronic pop of Leavin’ Me.
Elsewhere, on To Be Loved, Tired Of The Show and the closing After All The Love, they explore offbeat pysch-pop, edgy post-punk disco and a whimsical country lament, respectively. It’s safe to say that it’s Bent’s most three-dimensional album to date.
And for those who devoured the soundscapes of Programmed To Love, the eloquently languid As Seen From Space and the melancholic The Handbrake will provide emotional succour.
Appropriately enough, Bent have timed their return to perfection. With the press deeming dance music interesting again Intercept! is another shot in the arm for a rejuvenated scene.
Make no mistake then, no matter how you stumble upon its many charms, Bent’s new album will Intercept! your heart.
Setting up their own label, Sport Recordings, the duo released three EPs (one as Johnny Flash And The Flames) before a highly-praised debut, "Programmed To Love". They formed Bent in Nottingham in 1997 after becoming disillusioned with the state of dance music at the time. Tolliday had previously been part of a famous Midlands-based sound system, DIY. Their ethereal, ambient, sample-heavy sound has been likened to Air, Moby and even Badly Drawn Boy. They are said to have made their early recordings with nothing more than a sampler and 2000 second-hand records that they bought for £50. Perhaps an illustration of Bent's irreverent and genre-defying approach is their use of vocal snippets sampled from Nana Mouskouri on two of their recordings, "I Love My Man" and "Always In My Heart". Like many dance music producers (notably Fatboy Slim), they take pride in recontextualising somewhat overlooked material. The duo claim influences as diverse as Rolf Harris, Geoff Love, John Lennon, the Beach Boys to more clearly dance music-orientated ones such as Kid Loco and Aphex Twin.
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