October 31, 2012

Test Spins: Egyptian Hip Hop, Good Don’t Sleep

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When you and your buddies release your first record of danceable, ’80s-biting electro-pop at the age of 16, of course you are going to be hailed as the next-big-thing. When you’re from Manchester and your band is named Egyptian Hip Hop, well, that means being the subject of all sorts of NME hype-machinery. It’s felt like eons since their first experiences of critical fellatio, but, hey, you get the luxury of time when you put out some solid material before most of your friends have lost their virginity.

2010’s Some Reptiles Grew Wings EP was an indelible slice of enigmatic pop, all skittery beats, fat basslines and cheeky song titles (the surprisingly anthemic “Rad Pitt” tells you all you need to know). Lead singer Alex Hewett spat out vague but evocative couplets with a boyishly vulnerable croon that cracked in all the right places while the band chugged along like a maximalist cross between The xx and The Cure.

On their cockily titled debut full-length Good Don’t Sleep, Egyptian Hip Hop reveal that their record collections are a bit more varied this time around. “Tobago” is an indicator of some Talking Heads worship. Built on a jerky keyboard loop and a pounding African beat, it works a sinister mood as well as anything else. But while its disjointed harmonies and a gorgeously understated synth interlude signify the band’s growing maturity as songwriters, “Tobago” also serves as a harbinger of the sort of overlong, underdeveloped jams that hold the album back.

Lead single “SYH” crystallizes Egyptian Hip Hop’s potential into one track. Riding a dark, loping bassline, Alex Hewett sounds as forlorn as ever, his reverb-soaked voice almost sighing the chorus (a rather prevalent strategy that band lives or dies by). Tribal drums lifted straight from the “How To Be Joy Division” handbook pummel the listener into submission before the band retreats into ambient feedback. It’s a modern compositional style, with Egyptian Hip Hop employing dance music constructs in a synth-rock medium. While hardly original, they do it as well as any of their peers (even the ones ten years their senior).

The record is hardly devoid of other highlights. “Yoro Diallo” hints at Boards of Canada’s sleepy analog experiments before launching into a trickily polyrhythmic riff. “Pearl Sound” is brooding in a manner reminiscent of The Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored;” while it doesn’t reach the catastrophic highs of that track, it’s measured, sinister delivery shows that the band can be difficult and distant when it needs to be. Album closer “Iltoise” is as satisfactory a conclusion as one could expect for the album, a spacey and wistful finale that forgoes percussion in favor of echoing guitar arpeggios and indecipherable lyrics. “Iltoise” exhibits a tender side of a band that has made it’s living on rhythmic acrobatics and menacing soundscapes that are a whole lot more krautrock than Coldplay.

However, the Egyptian Hip Hop’s many attempts at atmospheric slow-burners — “Avalon,” “Strange Vale” and “The White Falls,” to name a few — are far from inadequate but suffer due to lengthy runtimes and a lack of melodic immediacy. What made Some Reptiles Grew Wings such a charming release was that, despite their more experimental leanings, these kids still knew how to deliver one helluva chorus. Listening to “Rad Pitt” gave you a sense that these guys could not only get a nod of approval from Pitchfork, but could deliver an indie disco smash in the vein of The Klaxons’ “Golden Skans.” A lot of time on Good Don’t Sleep is spent further abstracting their tracks rather than building towards some grand moment of delivery. Though this delivery works to near-perfection on the murky slow boil of “The One-Eyed King,” it’s resulted in a somewhat disappointing release that, given a little bit of guidance and editing, could have been excellent. Regardless, this is a promising debut that serves as a sketchpad of where the young quartet goes in the future — hopefully some place tighter, more varied and a tad less indulgent. More than anything, time is on their side. Let’s hope that Egyptian Hip Hop takes advantage of this.

Original Author: James Rainis

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