On Second Thought: Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx – We’re New Here (2011)

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Though his decades old warnings about the moral decay of Reaganism rang ever truer in the age of Fox and Palin, the late Gil Scott-Heron entered the 2010s as a prophet without honor in his own country.

Then came an acclaimed comeback album, issued a year and half before his death, a project that was then remade and remodeled by hot remixer of the moment, Jamie Smith. Smith’s band, the xx, is often cited for their quietude as much as their R&B leanings, and that approach spills over onto this project. Scott-Heron’s gravelly baritone was merely the most prominent instrument in the hypnagogic mix. Sounds were accentuated as much for their texture as their rhythm, seeming to emerge from our subconscious.

Like its source material, Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here, this is an uneasy but rewarding listen – pensive, moody, organic and a little ghostly. It’s a fitting approach to the man and his legacy, since “The revolution will not be televised” has become as much a part of the cultural ether as Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.”

And dreamlike this is. Snatches of conversation mix with half familiar sounds. Instead of touching on Scott-Heron’s jazz and funk stylings of the ’70s and ’80s, We’re New Here recalls the retro-futurism of Broadcast and the Focus Group: “Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age” crossed with R.L. Burnside’s electric blues.

On “The Crutch,” apocalyptic spoken word seems to rub shoulders with Cibo Matto’s “Sugar Water.” “My Cloud” keys off the rhythm of the warm and haunting backing vocals. And a recurring tone in “New York is Killing Me” flashes like a warning beacon, turning this missive from the urban jungle into a premonition from out of the silent planet.

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Patrick Moran

Patrick Moran

Chicago native Pat Moran is a filmmaker who has produced and written five feature films, and served as producer and editor for Western Classics, a film series hosted by actor James Best. He also writes about music for Creative Loafing Charlotte. The best job title he ever had was "part-time vampire." Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Patrick Moran
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