Massive Attack is the Bristol, UK-based music production duo of Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall, who have made a couple of very influential records over their career. Since their debut album, “Blue Lines”, which is considered the first trip-hop album, their style has evolved into something unique. Hip-hop and jazz-influenced beats, deep dub-influenced bass lines, often no choruses and dramatic atmospheric dynamics conveyed through huge distorted guitar crescendos and orchestral arrangements, and a whole lot of sampling. Their latest album, “Heligoland”, shows just how their style has evolved, and the album has become so popular that Massive Attack even asked unique dubstep producer Burial to make a remix album for it. The duo’s style on this album is a very unique combination of electronic instrumentation and live instrumentation, and also contains some stand-out tracks, as a result.
The opener “Pray for Rain”, which features Tunde Adebimpe on vocals, begins with ambient keyboards and an electronic bass, eventually leading into a jazz-influenced hip-hop beat and dissonant piano chords. Tunde’s vocals on this track are dreamy, to put it simply, as they are spoken almost like a whisper. In the middle of the track, there are synthesized bass lines that are closer to sounding like funk, and the ambient distorted guitar work and fluttering synths are superb. At one point, there are even harmonized vocals and a steady beat, which makes the song sound a bit happier, before it goes back into the jazz-influenced beats and dissonant piano chords. This opening track is a great start to the album, in that it sets the tone for what is to come next.
“Babel”, which features Martina Topley-Bird on vocals, begins with a strange off-kilter distorted beat, warped vibe melodies, and deep bass guitar lines. The soft vocals are a nice touch to the distorted stuff going on in the song, and the song contains some epic distorted guitar crescendos that sound similar to Massive Attack’s 1998 album, “Mezzanine”, as well as there is an upbeat chorus and drum and bass-influenced beats near the end, which is different than most of the group’s downtempo works. “Splitting The Atom”, which features Horace Andy, Daddy G, and 3D on vocals, as well as Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz on keys and synth bass, has the group’s famous downtempo beats and their experimentalism with different instrumentation, such as a vocoder and some strange pitch-bent pads at the beginning. The song sounds reggae-influenced with the stacatto organ hits, as well as in the end of the song, there are some very beautiful synthesized strings. “Girl I Love You”, which features Horace Andy once again on vocals, contains some really deep bass, distorted ambient guitar, and a smooth beat in the beginning, as well as some funky horns, percussion and synths that have a sort of Latin or Arabic flair to them. It’s just a very fun song that has a lot of experimentation and ear candy. “Psyche”, which yet again features Martina Topley-Bird on vocals, begins with an arpeggiated classical guitar and synth, as well as some light beats. The whole song plays with the mind a little bit due to its repetitive, hypnotic rhythms and synth work, in which Martina’s soft vocals serve as the perfect contrast to the madness going on musically.
“Flat of the Blade”, which features Guy Garvey on vocals and Damon Albarn on keys and synth bass, starts with a random sounding synth line and some subtle yet eerie sounding vocals courtesy of Guy, and some drum works that sound stretched out and full of grains. The track has a very chilled, downtempo feel, and the vocals add a very nice touch to the craziness that is going on musically with the drums and such. “Paradise Circus”, which features Hope Sandoval on vocals, actually reminds me a lot of the music Angelo Badalamenti composed for the TV show, “Twin Peaks”. The vibes and piano sound great on this track, and all the samples and beats used add up quickly to make an intriguing listen. Hope’s vocals also have a dreamy feeling as well, and the bass is just smooth and deep. The glass pads in the break, and the sudden explosion of piano and strings in the end of the song are also stunningly beautiful, and make this to be an outstanding track overall. “Rush Minute”, featuring 3D on vocals, contains a polyrhythmic drum machine beat at the beginning, and the piano, guitar, and 3D’s distinct whispery vocals make a great combination. The swells of piano and guitar at the end of the track are also just atmospherically amazing. “Saturday Come Slow”, which features Damon Albarn on vocals and Adrian Utley of Portishead on guitar, begins with a nice beat, and the bass and guitar parts are just wonderful. Damon’s vocals on the track make for a perfect combination, and the ambient, cinematic synth work halfway through the song makes for a nice touch. Likewise, the distorted guitar crescendos at the end are beautiful. The last song, “Atlas Air”, which is also the longest track on the album at 7 minutes and 40 seconds, contains a slow beat and organ riffs courtesy of Portishead collaborator John Baggot, as well as a distorted bass and vocals from 3D. The harmonized vocals, atmospheric pads and arpeggiated synths around the last 3 minutes are a nice contrast from the beginning of the song, and the distorted synth bass and guitar that end the song out are epic.
Overall, Massive Attack’s “Heligoland” is different from their famous “trip-hop” sound, but here, it’s different for the better. The atmospherics that occur in the album are magnificent, and each of the guest vocalists and musicians have done a great job contributing to the album. At times, the orchestration and combination of instruments is emotionally beautiful, and at other times, the strange experimental and abstract electronic sounds can just be surreal and eerie. Though I wasn’t pleased with some parts of the album, overall, it was a very enjoyable listen, and I would highly recommend it to those who are into trip-hop, alternative electronic rock, or just want to hear something different and exciting in general.
Artist: Massive Attack
Genre: Trip-hop/alternative rock/electronic
Released in 2010 by Virgin Records
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