Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: Ninja Tune
Continuing on from a debut album of effervescent sound-system pop, Toddla T's big and bountiful follow-up depicts UK street culture at its most warm, colourful and positive. Watch Me Dance pinballs between moments of preening boisterousness, humour, ostentation and soulful sophistication with such good-natured glee it's hard not to get involved. Like DJ Switch buzzing on a summertime-in-London vibe, the aptly-named Watch Me Dance sees the producer throwing about every shape in his arsenal, working scattergun-like through rave, Seventies r'n'b, lover's rock, dancehall, deep bass funk and more.
Self-described as having "a bit of the soul from Soul II Soul's Club Classics and a bit of the leftfield from Leftfield's Leftism," Sheffield DJ/producer Thomas Bell, aka Toddla T, is already setting himself up for quite the fall with such lofty comparisons for his sophomore outing, Watch Me Dance. While his follow-up to 2009's Skanky Skanky doesn't quite reach the heights of its two illustrious influences, it's a consistently inventive record that fills the genre-hopping dance void left by Basement Jaxx's recent foray into film soundtracks and Groove Armada's self-imposed hiatus. Recorded in Kingston, there's still plenty of the Jamaican influences that dominated its predecessor, such as the wobbly basslines and bouncy synth-led dancehall of "Badman Flu" and "Streets So Warm," and "Fly," a sun-soaked slice of one-drop reggae featuring a revitalized Ms.
The preamble to the second album by Sheffield bass-dispenser Tom ‘[a]Toddla T[/a]’ Bell was going perfectly smoothly until an unscrupulous German hack leaked it online. Benjamin Jager of Backspin – naming names is fun, isn’t it? – might have only sped up an inevitable process, but taking a degree of control out of Bell’s hands was always going to rile someone who’s elevated himself to one of the UK’s most esteemed production auteurs. It’s a shame, because [b]‘Watch Me Dance’[/b] is an album whose content in no way deserves to be overshadowed by a squabble about dickheaded piracy.
Revivalism and surprise might not always be mutually exclusive, but combining the two is tricky. It's been done, especially in dance music. But if you can't pull off that sneaky alchemical future-retroism, you can at least try to cast a broad net, paying homage to a lingering idea of a few distinct scenes and highlighting juxtaposition, if not actual cohesion.
"You know what time it is every time me and Toddla link up? Straight-up party-animal business!" bawls guest Roots Manuva at the end of the title track, capturing the essence of Sheffield producer Toddla T's second album. It's a raucous affair that mainly sticks with the jumpy dancehall/bassline sound of his first, but also includes moments of prettily soulful reflection. A parade of vocalists make sure to give Toddla props ("Toddla T has badman flu!" screeches Serocee on the hugely enjoyable ragga workout Badman Flu), and generally sound as if they're having the party of their lives.
To accept the invitation extended by the title of Toddla T's second album is to spend 40 minutes in the company of a hyperactive dance DJ/producer from Sheffield – real name Tom Bell – who jumps between styles and tempos with a manic exuberance until the music tires itself (and this listener) out. It starts well with rapper Roots Manuva coaxing his gruff vocals into song on the title track. After that, it's ups and downs, and Toddla proves himself better at preposterously high-energy dancehall tracks ("Badman Flu") than forays into early-90s piano-led vocal house ("Take It Back").
The worlds of slick, soulful pop and over-the-top dancehall beats come together on 26-year-old Sheffield producer Tom "Toddla T" Bell's Ninja Tune debut, an album that vacillates between raucous and refined without losing sight of the dance floor. There are splashes of 80s hi-NRG and 90s pop-house (a revivalist sound that has worn out its welcome), but it's strongest when riding straight-up reggae riddims. Clubby collaborations with Roots Manuva and Skream are okay, but better is Timberlee's vocal turn on Body Good, a spacious sex jam that sounds like a patois version of Cassie.
Sheffield producer delivers an accomplished, relevant and unifying second LP. Garry Mulholland 2011 Tom Bell aka Toddla T emerged from Sheffield in 2007, and everyone thought he was black. As a teenage DJ, producer and artist, Bell favoured an ebullient mix of new electro beats and old dancehall vocals provided by hometown black British MCs, marking him out as a cheeky Brit version of M.I.A.’s American collaborator Diplo.