September 29, 2014


Son Raw works according to his own internal logic.

Slackk makes Grime, but he doesn’t make dance or rap music, the oppositional poles that form the genre’s DNA. Whereas Grime’s superstar emcees have gone on to successful careers not altogether different from American rappers, and experimental artists like Logos reformat the genre’s attitude and sounds for an electronica audience, Slackk seems most interested in what makes Grime so completely weird. Refracting the loopy 8 bar structure of old pirate radio dubs to an almost psychedelic extreme, his music is technically fit for the club, but usually seems more apt for sleepless nights on the couch after one too many spliffs. It’s an approach that pays dividends on Palm Tree Fire, an album content to ignore the wider world of dance music and instead find inspiration in film soundtracks, experimental pop and other outside influences.

Not that the album goes light on the bangers, “Ancient Dolphin” is a first rate carnival anthem, assuming next year’s carnival takes place in a haunted Japanese temple. Likewise, “Intercept” and “Millipede” are stark enough to earn Slackk honorary Slew Dem membership, and fans of his NTS Live show will be happy to finally get their hands on the beats that fueled many a session. Palm Tree Fire really gets going however, when Slackk creates his own private worlds. I can’t tell if “Crafty Tiger” sounds more like a sea shanty played on a gameboy or Northern Soul Punk Rock, but it’s a definite highlight. Ditto for “Wash Your Face in My Sink”, a weightless melody straight out of an imaginary 80s Hong Kong gangster flick. The takeaway here is that Slackk not only makes badman music, he’s also into in a bunch of very interesting stuff – a refreshing change of pace from dance music’s insular self-references.

The circular loopiness inherent in these beats is a good fit for the album format as well. Whereas the five minute tracks on Slackk’s earlier EPs often felt exhausting, Palm Tree Fire clips ahead at a rapid pace, retaining a proper album’s narrative and a beat tape’s sense of brevity. Interestingly, it’s almost nearly devoid of vocals, with only the occasional “HEY” or wordless coo making an appearance until the penultimate track. That makes for a record very open to interpretation, with only a couple of abstract song titles to guide the listener through. Bonus points for consistent mood, but hopefully emcees begin to pay notice – it’s hard not to listen to some of these tracks and not wonder what an emcee like Trim or Novelist might sound on them.

A worthy successor to fellow Boxed member Logos’ Cold Mission, Palm Tree Fire further expands Grime’s parameters beyond its council housing origins without losing sight of the street edge that made it so interesting in the first place. It’s also further proof that the 10-20 producers orbiting around Boxed are making some of the most interesting music today, music too expansive and diverse to be limited to club sets and 12’’ singles. Building on the past without being beholden to it, Palm Tree Fire makes no bones about its weirdness, but give it a proper chance you’ll find yourself humming along to some of the most off kilter production The UK has produced yet.


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