Release Date: Jun 8, 2015
Record label: Infectious
Genre(s): Electronic, House
Things were different in 1999. Back then, everyone thought that the year changing from 1999 to 2000 would cause computers to gain sentience and launch a bunch of missiles for some reason. Back then, the music world was still debating after Cher decided to use the slightest hint of auto-tune on her vocals that one time. Back then, George Lucas was an untouchable genius, about to blow the world’s collective mind by finally releasing the prequels to the biggest movie series of all time.
The Matrix and Fight Club were in theaters the last time Leftfield released an album, and in those 16 years, the former duo lost a member as Paul Daley has moved on to a solo career, leaving Neil Barnes the sole proprietor. In spite of this, 2015's Alternative Light Source picks up right where 1999's Rhythm and Stealth left off, and it does so without ignoring the modern sound. "Head and Shoulders," a wobbly highlight that recalls LFO or Mr.
The Sistine Chapel ceiling only took four years to complete, so the arrival of Leftfield’s third collection of original songs, 16 years after their second, was unlikely to be worth every minute of the wait. The delay masks many developments within the group – not least the departure of Paul Daley – but the mark of quality is still present, updated via trap snares and new vocal tricks. As before, the guest vocalists are varied and the tunes lofty “big room” statement pieces, though they fail to recapture the genre-mashing scope and vision of their much-loved 1995 debut, Leftism.
The world has changed in the 16 years since the release of Leftfield’s last studio album, 1999’s Rhythm and Stealth. The former duo is now a one-man band in the shape of Neil Barnes, the music industry the band succeeded in charming is moribund, and dance music, subsumed into the mainstream partly through the band’s own success (remember the Guinness advert?) has been a busted flush for a good decade. The group were always among the real innovators of the scene with their absorption of dub and other genres and their combination of the cerebral with in-your-face bass.
Some of the best things in modern cultural life are restricted to two instalments. Fawlty Towers, The Office and Phoenix Nights all played out over just two series. The Stone Roses achieved their creative peak with just two albums. Until recently Leftfield were members of that exalted company, but the name has recently broken cover for the first time in 14 years, Neil Barnes now poking his head back above the parapet in a solo capacity.
Given how acclaimed Leftfield were in their 90s heyday, it might have been easier for Neil Barnes, now solo after splitting with duo partner Paul Daley, to be satisfied with his past glories. But any doubts that Alternative Light Source might not be a worthy follow-up to 1999’s Rhythm and Stealth are quickly dispelled. Opening track Bad Radio draws us in straight away, with catchy loops and an intriguing contribution by Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, building to an ecstatic climax that will more than satisfy long-standing admirers.
Leftfield are a product of their time, but it’s hard not to romanticise their legacy. Leftism — their ’95 debut — felt thoroughly ahead of its time. Its fusion of dub, house and trance-tribalism still resonates across dancefloors today. And 1999 follow-up, Rhythm And Stealth — arguably their most complete work — played intoxicating industrial beats off against searing techno.