Beat Spacek  ‘Modern Streets’ (Ninja Tune)

Steve Spacek’s back and he’s been hollowed out by the cosmos     

Spacek were always one of the most unplaceable of acts to emerge from the mid-90s explosion in headphone-friendly dub and hip hop based music, otherwise known as t*** h** (sorry, still can’t bring myself to say that phrase). Though ostensibly from the same kind of roots as artists on Mo’Wax and Ninja Tune, they put a unique spin on their influences, seemingly as much inspired by 80s pop and electro as well as the more further-flung electronic reaches of jazz and funk. They had no interest in shoring up any concept of pulling from a “golden age”, the overly-reverential attitude that kept so much t*** h** so earthbound. 

That unique attitude is still massively evident on Beat Spacek’s ‘Modern Streets’, the latest project from vocalist and producer Steve Spacek. It’s not unplaceable music, it sounds like the streets you walk made aural flesh, but in a musicological sense it blends the familiar in proportions you don’t expect, to put you sonically in a world both recognisable and revelatory. 

Created largely using his iPhone and iPad apps, ‘Modern Streets’ feels new, feels like Steve’s been liberated from old constricts via new technology. ‘I Wanna Know’ fizzes with the post-punk electro-aggravation of early Cabaret Voltaire, beautifully contrasting with Steve’s customarily sweetly soulful vocals. ‘Tonight’ takes Ghanaian hi-life out to space, strands it on a low-gravity surface, repopulates it with a digital elasticity and hum. ‘Inflight Wave’ is pure electropop, part Prince, part early Human League, but with a warmth and an odd sense of folksiness I haven’t heard anywhere this side of Ultramarine. 

Although all the sounds here are determinedly modern, the title cut again seems to come from the same bleak, late 70s post-punk place as much of the rest of the album, perhaps a reflection of the similarly despairing political realities Steve’s addressing in his lyrics. ‘I Want You’ is the kind of track David Bowie should be making right now, haunted by the ghost of Arthur Russell. As the album progresses things get weirder and there are essential silences as the peripheries get clogged with little shards and scraps of detritus and detail. We wind up on the epic, gorgeously suggestive ‘Alone In Da Sun’, like some great long-lost outtake from AR Kane’s ‘I’, rubbery with bass, frictive with splashy Talking Heads-style loops, Steve coming on like an R&B crooner who’s been hollowed out by the cosmos, only able to proffer us love if our molecules get scattered to the solar winds. A beautiful, unsettling coda. 

Some people come back and tarnish their legacy. Steve Spacek’s come back and actually given us what I think might be the best thing he’s ever given us. 2015 starts here. Exquisite.

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