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Album Review

Gil Scott-Heron proved he still had it on 2010's I'm New Here, his first album in 16 years. Simultaneously, Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx) established himself as a sonic architect on his band's moody, minimal debut, then as a producer remixing other artists and DJing in clubs across the U.K. This pair comes together on We're New Here, the remix of Scott-Heron's album. It is structured in similar fashion to its predecessor: 13 tracks with songs broken by four brief interludes; the set is rhythm-heavy and suffocatingly close, but not a track-for-track take. Richard Russell's production on I'm New Here kept Scott-Heron's voice front and center; Smith displaces it often, all but covering it with effects, beats, and pitched vocals in styles that cross the electronic music gamut from house to electro to dubstep. "I'm New Here" begins skeletally; Scott-Heron recites solo before a keyboard shimmers in. Gloria Gaynor's "Casanova Brown" in chipmunk pitch is sampled in just under a dread dub bassline and a skittering rhythm track with squiggly keyboard sounds before Scott-Heron counters — it's delightfully unsettling. The strange, outer space sound library effects on "Home" accompany Scott-Heron singing "home is where the hatred is..." amid a clipped, heavily reverbed, and euphoric keyboard sample that repeats just over a drum loop; it adds gloss without altering the darkness. "Running" has his spoken poetry coming from just around the corner and through a tunnel. It's juxtaposed against a full-blown post-Dilla hip-hop rhythm. On "Ur Soul and Mine," a house rhythm leads the charge and Scott-Heron's vocal moves right into a blanket of synths. "The Crutch," with its layers of high-pitched, blissed-out female backing vocals atop frenetic drum'n'bass, is a rhythm collision. In "My Cloud," with its lilting tempo and slippery bass drum, a shimmering bassline and watery Rhodes piano provide the backing for the sweetest soul vocal Scott-Heron has ever cut. Smith even evokes the sound of his own band in the closer, "I'll Take Care of U," with his sparse guitar line, as pianos and basslines pulse under sets of squelchy synth chords. We're New Here is a mercurial collaboration; it's full of nods to other club styles and eras, but Smith's expansive direction is his own. He accomplishes a difficult task in successfully (re)presenting Scott-Heron's music — integrity intact — in the present tense to a fickle yet discerning groove-centric culture without kitsch or excess.

Biography

Born: 01 April 1949 in Chicago, IL

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the most important progenitors of rap music, Gil Scott-Heron's aggressive, no-nonsense street poetry inspired a legion of intelligent rappers while his engaging songwriting skills placed him square in the R&B charts later in his career, backed by increasingly contemporary production courtesy of Malcolm Cecil and Nile Rodgers (of Chic). Born in Chicago but transplanted to Tennessee for his early years, Scott-Heron spent most of his high-school years in the Bronx, where he learned firsthand...
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