1. Track List (123)

Clean Bandit Finally Changes Up Their Sound, But Is It Enough?

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 4 mins read

From 2013 to 2018, the Pop & Dance music industries fell into dark times; Dark times that were bountiful & brilliant for a certain subsect of Ibiza-loving festival-heads, but simultaneously terrible for anyone who enjoys variance in their musical offerings – Tropical House, Reggae Fusion, Future Bass & Dance Pop crossovers ruled the market with an iron fist & Clean Bandit were right in the middle of it all, churning out bouncy Reggae-adjacent tune after tune, featuring all manner of Caucasian vocalists adopting an Irie accent just for the hell of it. They quickly situated themselves as a one-trick pony, each new release sounding exactly the same as the last, but with What Is Love? it seems as though they’ve finally grown tired of this cycle…emphasis on seems.

Stepping Out Of Their Comfort Zone

Clean Bandit cleverly marketed this album with all of its most unique-sounding singles first, giving the impression they’d truly evolved as a musical group & were ready to hit the ground running with a new sonic outlook – The most prominent of these tracks was “Baby,” teaming up with the absolutely breathtaking Marina And The Diamonds & “Despacito” mastermind Luis Fonsi to create an exquisite Dance Pop & Latin Dance fusion track; It featured a bright array of new analog instrumentation they’d seldom used before, a wonderfully upbeat rhythm & that Latin flare that makes you want to hit the dancefloor in your best duds, miles away from the generic Reggae Fusion which plagued the last 3 years of their career – That said, it was also one of the only instances of artistic creativity on the whole record.

Regressing To The Security Of Familiarity

Once you get past “Baby” & other stellar mixes like the House-forward “Symphony” with Zara Larsson, you’re yet-again faced with a selection of predictable Reggae Fusion tracks, the only elements differentiating them being a slight change in narrative pacing & a different featured guest artist; Seriously, there isn’t a single track on What Is Love? that isn’t paired with a top-selling mainstream Pop artist, relying on celebrity to sell the productions rather than compositional skills – Sure, it certainly takes talent to make these compositions & the production quality is absolutely off the charts, but when you lay them all next to one-another there’s barely any difference between songs like “We Were Just Kids” & “I Miss You.”

Taking Us Out, But Making Us Pay Half The Bill

When you look at all that went into making What Is Love?, what with the insanely star-studded roster of guest artists, the fantastic production values & the healthy length of the record, it would appear as though Clean Bandit had really made a clean getaway this time, but there’re just too many flaws & repetitive structures to be overlooked, making it feel as if they got halfway through the album & thought “hey, this is uncomfortable, let’s go back to the way it was;” I mean, hell, have you heard the weird noises they got Demi Lovato to do in “Solo”? At the end of the day, it just feels like too little too late, or rather an attempt to pull the wool over their listeners’ eyes without having to actually grow sonically like their contemporaries have & that’s just shady – But hey, at least KYLE & Big Boi got to play around a bit on “Out At Night,” eh?

Clean Bandit Earned Their Spot In The Pop Royalty Pantheon With Debut Album New Eyes

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 10 mins read

There are few things I hate more in this world than being proven wrong about a long-held ideal of mine, especially when it pertains to musical opinion as I pride myself on having a decent grasp of what’s considered truly compelling music & what’s utter garbage worthy of critical evisceration. Regarding this line of thought, Clean Bandit’s phenomenal debut album New Eyes is easily the sharpest thorn in my side, as it goes against every single one of my prejudices against the English trio I’ve cultivated over the years, giving people on the other side of the debate some incredibly well-designed ammo to fire back whenever I voice any gripes about their most recent commercial & creative flops – To roll things back a bit, I’ve spent the last few years absolutely shitting on Clean Bandit as a band, in part for their role in popularizing the mid-teens Tropical Pop revolution that spawned directly from Reggae Fusion & in another for their seeming inability to escape this decidedly-profitable subgenre on 2018’s What Is Love?, shamelessly selling out & following mainstream trends rather than using their immense fame to produce something truly original that could inspire the next generation of Electronic performers to break away from accepted formulas; It seemed every single time you heard the group’s name in the news, it was always attached to an incredibly generic Caribbean-inspired Dance Pop tune that sounded eerily similar to everything else on the radio, generally receiving such critical acclaim for the inclusion of up & coming celebrity artists who were popular with the young’ns, thereby perpetuating the cycle of Pop music’s current monotony by refusing to evolve in any tangible way. I’m sure much of my disdain came from jealousy, as every boring Pop artist with a formulaic style tends to grind my gears when there’re so many brilliant bands out there with incredible understandings of musical theory just waiting to be discovered, but I quickly grew to despise the trio whenever I heard their names, turning the act of trash talking into a somewhat pleasurable hobby I engaged in whenever possible – Well, while modern songs like “Solo” with Demi Lovato are undeniably corny & others like the Sean Paul & Anne-Marie collaboration “Rockabye” still make me want to slit my wrists, I’m pleased to say I’ve gained a newfound respect for Clean Bandit’s earlier days after making a return trip to New Eyes as it’s chock-full of stellar hits I’d previously had absolutely no idea they wrote, the vast majority of their driving compositions accounting for some of my favourite House jams of the last decade. Though this directly conflicted with my fervent hatred, it was actually an astounding revelation of both good & bad implications; On the one hand, it meant Clean Bandit were actually pretty magnificent musicians at one time who’ve surprised me in spectacular fashion, though on the other it means their recent quality has fallen at an exponential rate to a comparably inferior level, validating my current criticisms of their unsatisfying follow-up record wholeheartedly – So, yeah, I guess you could say New Eyes is the gift that keeps on giving.

The Cultivators Of Every Modern Earworm

New Eyes is an especially interesting album as it’s responsible for producing some of the hottest tracks in recent memory, particularly when it comes to the influence it had on the House industry’s massive paradigm shift which occurred around the time of its inception – Whereas House & Trance music once ruled the industry with an iron fist from 1995 to roughly 2006, the Electronic market at large took a massive nosedive in the latter-end of the noughties as Club Hit-focused groups like Kesha, The Cataracs & Far East Movement came into prominence, the dreamy digital soundscapes & beautifully soaring vocal narratives of previous years unwilfully getting replaced by cheap knock-offs of underground sounds by popular celebrity artists; Instead of magnificent Progressive House power anthems designed by masterful DJs who knew how to get a crowd moving, we were given terribly unbalanced mixes from acts such as Selena Gomez & even Britney Spears that thought all you needed to make a jam was abrasively-blaring synths & a simple four-on-the-floor percussion rhythm, dumbing down expectations to a point where Dance music itself lost a lot of its spark – Enter Clean Bandit & a slew of other UK-borne artists who went to great lengths to revive the Diva House styles of yesterday, pushing fantastic mixes that focused on feminine vocalizations, sturdy dance beats & positively uplifting narrative structures that would light audiences ablaze with unrivaled glee. New Eyes had such noteworthy tunes as “Rather Be (feat. Jess Glynne)” that encouraged listeners to revel in the wholesome glory of romantic adoration, “Real Love” that presented a cinematic dreamscape of symphonic instrumentation over soothing lyrics of sexual gratification, “Mozart’s House” that brought back the casually-quirky sensibilities of late-nineties British Electronica with groovy Hip Hop & Grime-based Rap lyricism & the decidedly mid-noughties mix “Cologne (feat. Nikki Cislyn & Javeon)” which pumped out ethereal bliss clearly inspired by songs like Robin S’ 1993 classic “Show Me Love” & Crystal Waters’ iconic “Gypsy Woman” from 1991; Every one of these tracks managed to reach peak-popularity in both the UK & America, burrowing their way into your head like a delightful little sonic parasite you were happy to have along for the ride, giving Clean Bandit a frontrunner status unlike any other act on the market aside from maybe Disclosure or Calvin Harris who were each making waves of in their own way – I think this is important to recognize because for many years I’d mistakenly assumed these tracks were creations of their featured vocalists, attributing much of the group’s success to their collaborators & judging the band based off their undeniably-lackluster Singles going forward, but acknowledging the incredibly strides they made to enrich the House industry only a few years back presents a new perspective through which to appreciate Clean Bandit, even if it didn’t last very long after New Eyes was released.

B-Sides Nearly Sabotage A Pristine Record

Question: Whose bright idea was it to include a handful of stylistically-unrelated Dance mixes from Clean Bandit’s earlier days on their debut outing? Like, I understand wanting to flesh out a record with additional material from years prior, as it shows the creative range you possess as an artist in order to catch the attention of a much wider audience, but so many of the numbers found within New Eyes just don’t fit at all with the more progressive nature of their rather polished House identity, totally screwing with their vibe by providing what feel like rough drafts of their concept before they figured out what kind of music they actually wanted to promote – Let me elaborate a little so you understand what I’m getting at. Songs like “Dust Clears” are downright atrocious, attempting to gain the favour of Electropop audiences with an arrangement comprised of heavy vocoder-modulation with a flirty bounce not too dissimilar to the “Still Alive” tune GLADOS sings in Portal, cute Casiotone synth sequencing akin to something you would’ve heard in the last days of late-noughties Emo Pop & an utter lack of low-end presence that makes it hard to actually dance to in an entertaining fashion. Furthermore, you have tracks such as the titular “New Eyes (feat. Lizzo)” that fails to capitalize upon the then-burgeoning Electronic Trap demographic with what is easily Lizzo’s worst performance, the lazily put-together “A + E” that wants to be as feminine & edgy as an Azealia Banks or Lily Allen number but does so with no enthusiasm whatsoever & what I consider to be the worst offense “Come Over (feat. Stylo G),” a joint that yet-again adopts a popularized Reggae Fusion & Afro Pop aesthetic but just can’t produce as compelling a track as is customary for the genres, essentially getting the basic rhythms of the styles down but delivering it with incredibly weak instrumentation, terrible tonal balances & a melodic structure so forgettable you’d be forgiven for never hearing of it before, something that could’ve easily been remedied by a larger focus on Gospel-type vocal accompaniment & a much dirtier bassline to give the whole ordeal some more flavour – Of course, when you consider how many tracks on New Eyes successfully knocked things out of the park into a completely different star system, the occasional dud here & there is more or less forgivable, as the majority of listeners would happily blast the remaining numbers on repeat enough times to pick up the slack as far as stream-counts are concerned. Still, I can’t believe Clean Bandit’s label thought it’d be better to cram in a bunch of unrelated numbers just to inflate the album’s runtime when they so clearly don’t belong anywhere near the more bombastic, exceptionally-produced jams dispersed throughout.

Blink & You’ll Miss It Critical Acclaim

While my current evaluation of Clean Bandit’s most recent record still pits them as an over-hyped group who’re nowhere near deserving of the immense social status they hold today, I’d be remiss to suggest they didn’t win their title fair & square with New Eyes, as it remains one of the best Electronic albums released in the last decade with impressive ramifications for the rest of the industry going forward. I can hate on their unenthusiastic Future Bass & Reggae Fusion mixes from 2018 all I want, but hey, at the end of the day, I’m gonna be jumping around my room in euphoric ecstasy to the exhilarating melodies of modern Diva House banger “Stronger” on a steady loop for hours, tossing my hair back & forth whilst staring into the mirror as my self-confidence reaches a fever-pitch the likes of which only a select few songs these days can bring me to – Perhaps that’s where the line draws between me & the average mainstream audiophile: I’ll quickly move on from a given artist once they’ve broken into the top percentile of Pop performers, as their market saturation & adherence to modern trends just seems to rub me the wrong way which in turn prevents me from enjoying their albums in full if I hear them too often, but your average Joe Schmo doesn’t listen to nearly as much music as I do every day, so they find deep connections with the few albums they buy & champion them for years until the next successful record hits the radio for another round of popular reception, thus continuing the cycle & keeping them placated just enough to be happy in their lives. Does that make me a sadistic music lover, holding far-too-high a bar of excellence for artists to overcome when trying to impress me? Probably, but in my progressed age I’m finding myself more & more forgiving of mainstream artists so long as they can pique my attention with just one or two solid jams. Seeing as New Eyes is overflowing with melodic magnificence, maybe I should consider dropping my hater ways & just enjoying music at its most basic level like the rest of the world, eh? At the very least, I’ll be happy & a lot less likely to make unnecessary enemies when it comes time for me to release my own records – So, in conclusion, I guess I have to apologize to Clean Bandit, as I’ve been unceremoniously vile towards them for far too long; What Is Love? can still eat my ass, but the trio of musically-inclined companions have earned my genuine respect with New Eyes & I think that’s good enough for now.

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12. Artist Info

About

Clean Bandit are an English electronic music band, formed in Cambridge in 2008. The band consists of members Grace Chatto, and brothers Jack and Luke Patterson. Many of their projects are known for blending elements of both classical and dance music, and featuring guest vocalists. Notable collaborators include Ellie Goulding, Jess Glynne, Anne Marie, Sean Paul, Demi Lovato, Zara Larsson, Luis Fonsi and Marina and the Diamonds.
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Active

    2008–present

Label

  • Atlantic
  • Black Butter