By calling their second album Return to the Ugly Side, Bristol stoner-funk pranksters Malachai are implying some sort of connection between the new record and its 2010 predecessor, Ugly Side of Love. But after loading up that debut with nudge-wink samples of everything from 1979 cult classic The Warriors to the freakin' Guess Who, the only joke here is that, titular similarities aside, the two albums could not be more different in approach. But then Return to the Ugly Side is all you could hope for from a fledgling act following up a promising debut-- a sophomore effort that sees the duo of Gary Ealey and Scott Hendy transcending their more obvious influences and unifying their scatterbrained aesthetic into a more singular sound, one that presents all sorts of new possibilities.
Don’t let the title fool you. Bristol, England’s cut-and-paste cuties Gee and Scott recycle some of rock’s prettiest moments for their sophomore effort as Malachai (and not “Malakai,” as they used to be known). Part of its sweetness comes from Gee’s winsome voice, yet Scott seems to select some choice sonorous samples to go with his quaking beats, dozy soul sounds, musty garage rock and psychedelic interludes (“Let ’Em Fall”).
Malachai is one of those strange hybrid bands that only the British seem to produce. It’s a fairly mysterious group: only two guys, who yet manage to make a big sound. And that’s precisely the conundrum. How does one vocalist and one sampler/mixer make a sound as full as a traditional band? Though Malachai got an early push from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow—and the duo is also from Bristol, noted trip hop ground zero—they are more frantic and louder than their neighbors.
By giving their second album a title that explicitly positions it as a sequel to their exceptional, eye-popping debut, Ugly Side of Love, the pigeonhole-defying Bristol duo Malachai set up a curious set of expectations. Besides suggesting a general similarity between the two efforts, the implication seems to be that this is, if not necessarily a lesser work, one that shouldn't or can't quite stand on its own merits. Return to the Ugly Side might indeed be most charitably considered as a companion piece -- and more of a supplement than a necessary complement -- but it's not exactly a retread.
Ugly Side of Love, the debut from Bristol duo Malachai, borrowed heavily from the birth of capital-P Psychedelia — back when it was almost indistinguishable from, rather than the polar opposite of, garage rock. Scott Hendy proceeded to sushi-slice these fuzzy pockets of sound into uplifting, if occasionally eerie, songs. The pièce de résistance was Gee Ealey’s vocal style, cartwheeling through the synapses of reggae history and lighting up melodic patterns that casual listeners had always taken for granted.
You’d be pushed to find a more self assured introduction to an album than Malachai’s ‘Monsters’. Swelling with a regal crescendo of horns and strings, the thing sounds more like the score to a Michael Bay movie than anything else. The instrumental opening to Return to the Ugly Side is misleading in a sense, in that it displays an overreaching aural ambition largely absent from the more simplistically-minded body of the album itself.