We all know how much the music press love to build little boxes in which to compartmentalise artists, but sometimes it would be good if they could put a bit more effort into it: the two most common descriptions one sees attached to London/ Hastings collective Melt Yourself Down are “Acoustic Ladyland side-project” and “UK jazz supergroup”, and whilst there is a degree of truth in both neither are wholly accurate and in fact do the band something of a disservice. For one thing, Acoustic Ladyland – for much of the last decade the most successful ensemble on the contemporary British jazz circuit – are no longer operational, which means MYD are no more a “side-project” than, say, Wings or the Style Council were; this is the sound of saxophonist Pete Wareham and bassist Ruth Goller moving forward, not just finding a new diversion to pass the time away from work. Secondly, MYD are only jazz by default, in as much as a group with a two-horn frontline and collective time served with some of the genre’s biggest names (see also Polar Bear, the Heliocentrics, Mulatu Astatke) will always be automatically and lazily tagged as such. In fact, whilst most of MYD’s players are grounded in jazz – second saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and drummer Tom Skinner (who also records as Hello Skinny) make up half of Middle East-meets-New Orleans quartet Sons Of Kemet – the group’s sound is much further-reaching, with percussionist Satin Singh (Transglobal Underground) and vocalist Kushal Gaya (Zun Zun Egui) bringing punked-up world fusion rhythms to the table and producer Leafcutter John, a one-time Planet Mu stalwart, adding electronic flourishes and dancefloor heft. So we get brassy, block-rocking bangers (“Fix My Life”, below) and hyperactive Afro-acid house (“Release!“) seamlessy melding booming hip hop and highlife rhythms with duelling saxes and fat synths; Krautrock Arabesques (“Tuna”) and riotous calypso (“We Are Enough“), even a daring attempt at jazzing up sludgy prog-metal (“Camel”). With Gaya spouting unhinged Damo Suzuki-esque glottal-babble and leading the band with call-and-response chants, and with Wareham and Hutchings’ addictive sweet and sour harmonies and Skinner and Singh’s equally irresistable thunderous double drum attack pushing the adrenaline levels into the red, it’s the kind of music John Peel would have loved, a condensed Rough Guide to World Music for those who would rather be shaking their rumps at Notting Hill Carnival than comparing garden suntans with the armchair tourists at WOMAD. It’s a dozen stamps in a well-thumbed passport, an open plane ticket to wherever you want to go and a few places you didn’t know existed besides. It’s the pharaohs’ own “Gangnam Style”, a retro-futurist tribal rave-up of mind-blowing proportions. It’s Fela Kuti playing the Hacienda. It’s James Chance and the Contortions playing Ronnie Scott’s. It’s Can playing CBGBs. It’s the sounds of Cairo ’57, Cologne ’69, New York ’78 and the “Second Summer of Love” coming together in London 2013, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Straddling continents and generations with their globe-trotting giddiness, Melt Yourself Down have produced the best British debut album in years, and if you need a pigeonhole to stuff them in, here’s one that’s a little more accurate than “UK jazz supergroup”: your new favourite band.
Melt Yourself Down is out June 17 via The Leaf Label