It’s barely halfway through 2014 and Clean Bandit has already had a stunning year. ‘Rather Be’ vaulted them into the limelight after years of struggling to get anyone to take their jarring sound seriously. It’s a sound that recurs deep throughout their debut New Eyes – classical orchestral music forced into an arranged marriage with house and garage. In a similar vein to actual arranged marriage, it’s something that nobody particularly expects to work. But boy does it.
Album opener ‘Mozart’s House’ features deep, blinking house beats with classical music breakdowns thrown in for good measure. The classical violin, cello and drums blend effortlessly with the house and garage beats to detail how the band came to be (“They never liked classical or grime […] a couple a skipped beats, a couple of movements south, now we made it to Mozart’s House”). Listening to these lyrics makes is clear why this was the obvious contender for the debut single as it explores the bands roots, and makes it clear why they have jarred these contrasting sounds.
These opposing sounds are never more prominent than on tracks ‘Come Over’, which features Stylo G’s reggae vocal which works for the most part, but which verges into a lyrical mess in the final verse that is hard to follow or even comprehend; ‘Telephone Banking’ which tries, and ultimately fails, to blend hip hop and classical; and ‘New Eyes’ which, after the somewhat disastrous previously mentioned attempts, shouldn’t work but does. It perfectly balances classical and rap in a surprising turn. Much like the song’s lyrics, Clean Bandit have looked at classical music with new eyes and brought something new and completely unique to the forefront. You’ll not hear another album like this. It’s Avant Gard.
Current single ‘Extraordinary’ lives up to its name: it’s simple, haunting somewhat and ultimately an extraordinary piece of music. Opening with screeching harmonising over simple piano, the chorus is sweeping and infectious, similar to ‘Rather Be’, which really needs no introduction. It sweeps the listener off of their feet instantly and demands them to dance as it showcases Clean Bandit’s marriage of house and classical. This marriage is similarly shown on ‘Cologne’ and ‘Heart On Fire’, the former which shows a sense of urgency with a chorus primed for a traditional dance track and the latter which fuses classical with garage and hip hop to produce one of the best chorus’ on the album.
In a surprise turn for me ‘Birch’ is the album standout. It features haunting and ethereal vocals by Eliza Shaddad played over beautiful classical music. To quote ‘Rather Be’, ‘Bitch’ is “sacred simplicity” in an album of deep beats. It’s a breath of fresh air.
As is the album. New Eyes is something different in a chart of dance, EDM and soul music. Their sound may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly unique. New Eyes ultimately does feature a few duds (‘Telephone Banking’ and ‘Up Again’ should have been replaced with deluxe edition bonus tracks ‘Rihanna’ and ‘Nightingale’) but when it works it works. And it works more than it doesn’t. Clean Bandit deserves to be applauded for their ingenuity in creating an album that goes against the grain.