Clean Bandit - New Eyes

UK rascals transcend genre as they incorporate strings, EDM, and over 10 different vocalists.

Additional Info

8.8

ALBUM: New Eyes

ARTIST: Clean Bandit

2014

Dance

Clean Bandit: an oxymoron, a stealthy theft, or a smooth criminal? The UK band's name comes from a translation of a Russian phrase that group members Grace Chatto and Jack Patterson came across while living in Russia. Similar to the English for "complete bastard,” the phrase is a lighthearted jolt, much like Clean Bandit’s album New Eyes. The album’s sound is emphatic, but not weighed down, it’s a wake up call residing in your brain’s pleasure center. Clean Bandit sounds different because their use of strings is intended to showcase the instrument in the foreground; the violin and cello are not to be mistaken for a diminished accompaniment.

The group of four met at Cambridge University. Upon happenstance, boyfriend Patterson layered recordings of Neil Amin Smith and girlfriend Chatto’s string quartet with his own beats in 2009, loving the sound that resulted. Patterson pulled his brother Luke into the mix, literally, and the four relocated to Moscow to begin their promotion as Clean Bandit. “The videos are definitely as important as the music,” says Chatto. The classic tool of stop motion, like a classical instrument, was dusted off and put to work for their first Internet sensation “Mozart’s House.” Representing an eclectic sound in the digital age, their videos serve to illuminate, or eradicate, many of the theories and questions presented in the lyrics.

The oxymoron of a group highlights classical strings in tandem with punchy lyrics and inventive electro beats. Their wisest choice yet? Each track on New Eyes features a selected vocalist from any and all backgrounds and ages. None of them sound the same, and yet they are all part of the sound that is so uniquely Clean Bandit. The track’s individual genres range, some featuring rap, while others an extensive cello and violin duet. Though they don’t pull it off for every song, a trio of lyrical depth, vocal quality, and instrumental electronic sounds emerge as the signature for the Clean Bandit style. The inclusion of over 10 different featured vocalists saves the album from sounding too similar, too tired, or too monotonous, though they taunt in the albums first track “Mozart’s House” that electronic music is repetitive. That’s what makes it unique. Settled in their niche genera of pop powerhouse/electro meets-classical music, Clean Bandit uses collaborations to blend hip-hop, jazz, and island vibes into their densely populated album.

"A lot of people seem to think we have an agenda regarding mixing classical music with dance music," sighs Grace Chatto, the cellist and music video star. “But, really it was because Jack and I were very close personally and the reason we started playing together was more because we wanted to do some kind of project together. I had this string quartet and Jack was very involved in it,” she told Gigwise.

Clean Bandit literally crosses a bridge between the classical genera and the new influential genre of techno. The mainstream pop fans combined with the electronic music crowd garners Clean Bandit a plethora of listeners from the disparate genres of pop, classical, hip-hop, and electro dance music. Their tongue-in-cheek sass, found in the music video for “Dust Clears,” adds a layer of personality and humor to the UK group, messing around with different degrees of seriousness in each song. The mash up of classical music remastered for electro dance music is nothing new, its use can be traced back to the likes of the orchestral stabs of Derrick May's hugely influential Strings of Life in 1987, through to more recent examples like Dutch DJ Tiesto's mix of Barber's Adagio for Strings, originally written in 1936.

At risk losing a sounds of their own, Clean Bandit presents every track on their debut album in new style and scene. Their energy and personality are mocked by some; in interviews, they’ve been asked to justify why one would care about a “joke band.” But, the strength behind their instrumental talent and lyrical quality is too much to ignore.

Their hits like "Rather Be", "Dust Clears", and "Mozart’s House" have gained millions of views online, but, they joke, listeners only mistook the video for a tour of the composer’s home. Though they kid, Clean Bandit’s album touches upon topics of labeling, perspective, and relationships. Their most intriguing intellectual material arises from “Dust Clears,” because they point blank ask the listener to forget what you thought you knew, stating that our worlds are only figment of imagination. "Birch", later in the album, is composed of lyrics so poetic they could easily be taken as a work of art on their own. Surprise inclusions like this keep the New Eyes album sounding fresh, utterly unique, and fun, with a depth that can be continuously explored.

“So you think electronic music is boring?/ You think... it's stupid?/ You think it's repetitive?/ Well, it is re-repetitive.”

1. Mozart’s House
Staccato synthetic sounds dot along, and an awkward horn blurts out over the voice of a suave male asking, “So you think electro music is boring? You think it’s stupid? You think it’s repetitive? Well, it is repetitive.” It’s such a matter of fact proclamation that the listener is comforted with the sense that yeah, this song is repetitive, so it fits right in place with contemporary electronic music. In the music video, a young man’s face is massaged by the hands of strangers. Allusions to ecstasy, anyone? There’s a feeling of relief in the fact that the song is nestled in the techno-electro-rave category where it belongs. We’re comfortable with this. But not for long, as the sounds of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 21 intertwine with Clean Bandit’s electronic dance tempo, the melody emerging as interesting and intriguing. The harsh, machine-like sounds that introduce “Mozart’s House” are delicately complimented by the string instruments, marrying an unlikely pair of sounds for the better. The video continues with stop action footage of random figures in Moscow, interrupted briefly by a quartet of four beautiful violinists consumed by their instruments, playing in a bustling train station. Clean Bandit mirrors the cacophony of sounds in “Mozart’s House” physically in their piece-y, imaginative music video. The meanings of both song and video are non-specific, but parallels are found within the polar opposites they form: the electronic and the instrumental, the banal and the passionate.8.5
2. Extraordinary
The melodic piano and mechanical vocals opening this track stir visions of a serenading auto-tuned alien. On the music video, a cherry wood violin cascades down a creek, filling with water, rocking to and fro. A minute in, the beat focuses into a steady rhythm, and then picks up, moving away from the previous ethereal vibe. Sharna Bass belts variations of “Carpe Diem!” in the name of rekindling old flames. One wouldn’t think to match this raspy accompaniment to a 16 year old girl, but Bass was, in fact, born in 1997. The scattered imagery becomes more succinct, and the track resembles an island dance beat with intermittent crescendoing of a chilling violin. “If she’s your only/ Then why are you lonely?”8.5
3. Dust Clears
Ice and machinery are captured, and as the video alternates between the two, strange similarities appear. The lyrics begin, and like a bad acid trip, your mind is challenged: “Imagine if the life that you thought you shared/ Wasn’t really there/ It was made up in your mind,/ Could be anyone/anywhere.” “Dust Clears” has certain sound qualities sounding familial to Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” as if a distant, younger cousin to “Touch.” Living up to the band’s foolish disclaimer, the video becomes wonderfully absurd, with a male mechanic singing in a girl’s voice and an ice skating Amish man. The lyrics encourage listeners to gain broader perspective, and understand the limits of one’s own mindset. The concept that the most meaningful relationship in our lives may be made up, and replaceable by anyone/anywhere, is frightening. The comical video tones down this bold accusation, yet the lyrics still bring a contemplative layer of depth to the song.9.4
4. Rather Be
In January, “Rather Be” reached number one on the UK charts. A legitimate summer anthem, it’s been gaining popularity in the US since. The lyrics are dubbed in Japanese, as this song and video take place in Tokyo, filmed from mopeds, cars, and trains. A young girl smiles as she goes about her day in the city, but becomes frightened at the sight of those different from her, and ironically, at the members of Clean Bandit. The lyrics portray two lovers on a journey, far from comfort, land, and sea. Straying from the other videos, the main woman featured in the “Rather Be” video is not Jess Glynne, but a Japanese girl who takes over Glynne’s voice. “When I am with you, there's no place I'd rather be,” she sings, more irony twinkling as the words come out of a different girl’s mouth. The song and video bring to light that though you can travel far and wide, people are people no matter where they are in the world. “We staked out on a mission to find our inner peace,” but it seems the song advocates a more worldly peace. The chanting, “N-n-n-no, no, no, no place I'd rather be” becomes catchy, repeating over and over in your ears long after the song has ended, echoing their message of peace through love.9.4
5. A+E
This jazzy beat formally begins as a classical strings piece, showcasing the talents of cellist Grace Chatto and violinist Neil Amin Smith. Not that we didn’t notice their powerful bows before. Forty seconds in, and the transition from strings to a jazzy dance beat is quick and seamless, bridged by a flutter of bongos. Then, up, in the video the dancers stand, skin of gold, and they pop, lock, twitch and kick-ball-change in a unison that is satisfying to the eye. Their gold skin could be an allusion to Goldfrapp’s “A+E,” or could simply be a coincidence, you decide. Again, the Clean Bandit’s lyrical subject matter stands strong, with inspiration in unlikely places. “In the beginning the light shone bright with possibilities, it’s still shining cause it runs on electricity,/ so don’t stop dreaming of the man that you could be, just give me a hand my friend be cool be strong and come with me.” The dialogue of a fizzled out relationship is reconstructed here with the positive outlook, “be cool, be strong,” inspiring change. The message is delivered in such a Island Groove/ Pop manner, it can hardly be considered demanding.8.8
6. Come Over
“Come Over” with Sytlo G brings a reggae element to “New Eyes” that we haven’t heard yet, with the tropical vibe that was previously insinuated in “A+E.” The chorus of “Rap-pa-pum” and “Sun sun sun sunshine” paints a picture of easy, beach-y living in the sand reminiscent of Sean Paul’s “Temperature.” A bit less complex than it precedents, this track obviously had less thought put into it from Clean Bandit.7.2
7. Cologne
This track starts out as sexy R&B ballad-gone electronic, and keeps up a high energy throughout. The male to female call and response is cute and catchy, and their harmonizing plus violins adds a bit of class. Like a traditional club song, the lyrics feature music running through your body, leaving the night in the crowd, and the namesake line, “Your cologne and the bass is making my heart beat insane.” Like “Come Over,” the subject matter of the lyrics is nothing novel, but the chorus and baseline here combine for a late night electronic dance beat with some original funk.8.9
8. Telephone Banking
Pause. Three people drop from the sky to the tune of a Mac computer turning on. At the very beginning of this song you can already feel it’s potential for jamming hard. Love Ssega appears in an ATM screen, addressing “Grace,” Grace Chatto, I presume, in a smooth voice that becomes increasingly auto-tuned. The killer chorus begins “You’re teaching in Japan and I got another school/You got another man and I got another boo/I’m glad we moved on, I’m glad we moved on.” The story within the lyrics is personalized enough to illuminate the story, but general enough to be relatable and honest. If the tune isn’t catchy enough the video also features children synthesizing their own instruments, and a string duet on top of a moving car. This track packs a punch, with quality and creativity spilling from the speakers.9.0
9. Up Again
Singer/songwriter Rae Morris stuns with her gorgeous vocals as she sings her heart out. At its beginning the song sounds like a summery, indie ballad, with a slow downbeat and spot on female vocal harmonization. The sound is then coupled with an electric piano and swelling violins, creating a melodic beat that draws the listener in. A minute and a half in, the electronic influences appear, and every so slightly, the drum and bass begins. The chorus encourages “The only way is up again,” and the song strongly resembles an Ellie Golding song with Netsky overtones. Though not emitting the ever unique Clean Bandit sound and lyrical combo, “Up Again” is still a mellow tune deserving a listen.7.8
10. Heart On Fire
An echoing beat catches up to the rhythm of a cow bell. The startling depth of Elisabeth Troy’s vocals is first noticed when she sings “I’ve never been the type of girl to dream/ about sugary things.” The 80’s dance beat talks about the infamous love drug, and the strong female vocals bring this track back into the disco era, as well. An ethereal flute surprises, followed by a steel drum, and the disco dance beat takes on an updated feel. The track doesn’t contain any contemplative lyrics or string solos, so it hangs back from attaining Clean Bandit’s full potential.7.0
11. New Eyes
The song immediately reminds of “Dust Clears” with the ominous male vocals asking deeply pondered questions. Once analyzed, the first stanza of lyrics appear to be asking if man could ever be so good as Jesus Christ. This sudden religious reference is serious and off-key for Clean Bandit. Lizzo drops in with a tongue tied rap sequence paralleling the dismissal blessing in a Catholic Church, then crossed with a fairy tale. “Once upon a time there was a girl who so much loved the world/She have her only begotten sunshine/And dried her stained eyes on a neck tie,” Lizzo spits, offering “Free prophecies from a black cat” as she detail the struggle she felt as an artist. Jack Patterson sings again the apology of a man walking in society with new eyes. The parallels to religious iconography are evident, but perhaps the religion Clean Bandit references is nonconventional. “Don't call like I should like its sacrilege/To make a dollar in a dream into packed venues.” They lyrics deem concerts sacrilege since they price the fulfillment of a spiritual practice: listening to music. Good point, Clean Bandit. Unfortunately, the further this track is from the open of the album, the less concentration it may receive from it’s listeners, and this far down, it may not earn the contemplation it deserves.7.9
12. Birch
This trip-hop track pairs well with the icy-clear voice of Eliza Shaddad. The introduction is heavy with anticipation as a sole computerized note plays once, again, again. Her voice breaks through the tone that echoes like a heart beat line. The lyrics are poets and simplistic, a true songwriter’s success. Though unclear why it’s entitled “Birch,” the song echoes it’s justification “I called, called, called,” like a bird calling repeatedly out of a Birch tree. An Eastern rhythm picks up the dripping vocals, and a piano wholeheartedly picks up an accompaniment. A beautiful song propelled by a smooth beat fits nicely near the conclusion of the album.8.9
13. Outro Movement III
The closing track on the New Eyes album, “Outro Movement III,” emerges sounding like a clunky determined robot named for a futuristic classical piece. The sketchy beat and electric tones make for a Mario Bros. symphony of techno sounds, building and pressing forwards through the notes. The rhythm created is entertaining, but only mildly interesting. Then, an orchestra of violins and cellos call and answer to each other, making for a complete break from the computer generated sounds. The cellos cast a heavy hand on the bow, making for a deep, resounding note that concludes the album.8.4
Written by Shelby Tatomir
Reading and writing are my roots, making music, design, and photography sprouting branches of special interests that I am always striving to cultivate.



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