Release Date: Feb 22, 2011
Record label: XL Recordings
Genre(s): Electronic, Rap, Jazz, R&B, House, Trip-Hop, Garage, Spoken Word, Pop/Rock, Experimental Ambient, Dubstep, Left-Field Hip-Hop, Dark Ambient, Electro, Jazz-House, Experimental Dub, Poetry
Most of the world was caught by surprise last year when spoken word icon Gil Scott-Heron reappeared on the scene 16 years after his last studio album with the mind-blowing futuristic techno-blues album I'm New Here. When word started spreading that The xx's resident electronic percussion whiz, Jamie xx (aka Jamie Smith), was remixing the entire album, you couldn't help but fear the label was just trying to milk every last drop from the original. However, if you've been following Smith's career closely, you know that the young producer has some impressive chops and takes his electronic music very seriously.
A brief history lesson: by the time Jamie Smith was born, Gil Scott-Heron had already released 13 studio albums and one live album. He had already published three books—The Vulture and Small Talk from 1970 and The Nigger Factory from 1972—and had appeared in Robert Mugge’s 1982 film Black Wax. His is a distinctive sound that incorporates spoken word, beatnik beat poetry, and jazz, blues and soul.
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.
Jamie xx's perceptive reworking of I'm New Here, Gil Scott-Heron's first album in 16 years, finds the pair united via the spiritual lineage of "music to dance by, to jump up and down on", as Heron intones on Jazz (Interlude). While the original album put Heron's ragged baritone front and centre, We're New Here submerges his bluesy confessionals in versatile, dance-inspired tempos, threading his sometimes painful reveries through soulful electro rhythms. It veers from shimmering dub on the Gloria Gaynor-sampling opener I'm New Here to nostalgic rave on the unexpectedly tender I'll Take Care of You, and UK bass culture meets the Big Apple on the eerie, booming dubstep of NY Is Killing Me.
Given his influence on hip-hop, it’s fitting that Gil Scott-Heron be subject to one of the genre’s grand traditions: the remix. Jamie Smith of the xx paired vocals from Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here with spare electronics, reimagining his soulful song-poems as futuristic screeds. Scott-Heron’s raspy vocals anchor Smith’s spectral diddlings; the results on We’re New Here are pleasantly moody.
Gil Scott-Heron's 2010 album, I'm New Here, was his first of original material in 16 years and best in three decades. But though it was a joyful return to the living for the once-homeless recovering addict and pivotal figure of pre-South Bronx talking blues, the album is defined by pallor. It's grim stuff, built around Scott-Heron's ashes-to-ashes baritone and XL founder Richard Russell's skeletal production, caked in grime and rust.
Gil Scott-Heron’s influence on music is deep; Jamie xx is the composer behind the xx, a band whose influence could be just as significant if its current trajectory continues. There’s much here to commend, but it’s mostly the ideas as opposed to the resultant music. Simply put, Jamie xx writes the music and samples Scott-Heron’s words from 2010’s I’m New Here.
It's kind of cute, and very humble of Gil Scott-Heron to title his 2010 album—the first in almost two decades—I'm New Here. A year later, Jamie xx (of the group of the same double initial) joins Scott-Heron in his humbleness by remixing said album, and titling it We're New Here. The result is the best of both artists: Scott-Heron's spine-tingling, cracked timeless spoken word delivery, The xx's thoughtful, well-paced current studio trickery.
Remix albums: so often attempts to flog a lame record’s corpse, lobbing body parts to any Tom, Dick or [a]Simian Mobile Disco[/a]. In an age when albums are ripe for dispersal, try and muster a toss. [b]‘We’re New Here’[/b] is different, we’re told. Jamie ‘zeitgeisty, young’ xx and Gil ‘legend, old’ Scott-Heron can learn from each other, see? The cynicism is hard to maintain – the pairing works.
Just about every charting pop song will have at least one ‘dubstep remix’ on YouTube, and 99 times out of 100 the results are utterly horrible. As amusing as it can be to slap a wobble bassline over a delicate singer songwriter, the art of a good remix is a little more sophisticated. Making a name for himself in this field is Jamie Smith, AKA Jamie XX, whose remixes for the likes of Florence and the Machine, Glasser and Adele have transformed his side project into a sensation in its own right.
A cohesive, considered masterpiece in its own right. Ele Beattie 2011 Remix albums are typically an opportunity to wring the final droplets of brilliance/money from a release by getting a cosy coterie to resuscitate old tracks. Rather than being manhandled by multiple greasy mitts, We're New Here benefits from the focused attention of one man only: Jamie Smith of The xx.
For his 2010 album, Gil Scott-Heron returned after a long hiatus with I’m New Here’s breathtaking new highs. After a long break that found Scott-Heron dealing with personal demons, he sounded just as personal and raw in creating what was probably the year’s finest comeback. The album bristled with genuine songwriting that found Scott-Heron asking, “But I’m new here, will you show me around?” and although he was unfound, he was never lost.
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