In today’s troubled economy, more and more people are finding it hard to make ends meet, much less treat themselves to a nice vacation. Thanks to Renegades, the latest offering from Mark de Clive-Lowe and his multi-cultural, dynamic sound, a first-class trip around the globe may be at your fingertips. With a little bit of imagination and either a great set of speakers or headphones on your side, all you have to do is sit back and press play to find yourself transported on this aural journey.
The current L.A. resident-by-way-of the United Kingdom-by-way of his New Zealand homeland has long been known for crafting a worldly sound like no other. While he tapped into a bevy of sounds in past works such as 2005’s Tide’s Arising, on Renegades, he dives headfirst into all of his influences, bathing the entire project in an aggressive mish-mash of sounds and cultures. And the impressive all-star supporting cast he taps is just as extensively international as the sounds that flood the album. Here, MdCL enlists help from U.K. cohorts, Omar, Tawiah, and Pino Palladino; French/Cameroonian export Sandra Nkake; and stateside pals such as Sheila E., Nia Andrews, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Lil’ John Roberts, and Ovasoul7.
Yet, even with such strong heavy hitters featured on Renegades, it’s still Mark’s aggressive production that takes center stage. MdCL crafts the kind of music that’s hard to ignore; there’ll be no fading into the background while taking this album for a spin. Percussion is clearly his drug of choice, leading the charge on most of the album. The driving, trippy drums on “Under Orders” are the perfect complement to Tawiah’s domineering vocals. The military-precision of the snare fits perfectly with the song’s title and overarching theme as Tawiah sings about marching to the beat of an unwanted lover’s drum.
But back to that musical world tour. Africa is the first stop along the way as things get started with the intro, “Alabi (Prelude)” featuring Sandra Nkake. Although it only clocks in at 35 seconds, it sets the tone for the Afrobeat-steeped “Alabi” finale where Nkake’s light chanting gives way to her haunting sing-scat. One of the album’s more experimental tracks, MdCL accomplishes the arduous task of creating a product that somehow sounds raw, tribal, and futuristic all at the same time.
Next stop on this journey is the U.K., courtesy of Bembe Segue and Nia Andrews on the sublime “Push.” Reminiscent of MdCL and Segue’s work together on Tide’s Arising, “Push” is a driving, assailing groove that pretty much dares you to not make your way over to the dance floor. In less nimble hands, this song could have easily come off sounding like a heavy-handed mash of synths, bleeps, and dings. However in the right hands — and perhaps the only ones that could pull it off — all parts come together to form a synchronized blend that’s both machinized and rhythmic. Heavy on the percussion again, “Get Started” provides another stop on our trip through the U.K. Teaming up with legends such as Sheila E., Omar and bassist Palladino, it was hard for MdCL to go wrong on this broken beat tune.
If the entire album serves as a first-class trip around the world, then the musical interludes serve as the layovers. Pino Palladino shows up again on “Just Wanna” and “Just Wanna Lil’ More,” while Atlanta-based drummer Lil’ John Roberts takes off running on “Interlude I” and “Interlude II.” Equal parts jazz, soul, and funk, all of the snippets have the feel of intimate late night jam sessions that you leave you wishing they each lasted a minute or two longer.
Recent frequent collaborator Andrews brings us back to the U.S. on the last leg of our ear-cation. The newcomer lends her vocals to some of my personal favorites on the album. “The Why” is a perfect exercise in laid-back soul. Though it’s one of the Renegades‘ more mellow numbers, “The Why” is still heavy on the groove, featuring a string arrangement courtesy of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Andrews’ voice is honey sweet as she ponders the direction her relationship is heading in.
Things don’t stay mellow for long, however, as things get punched up a couple of notches on the uber-fun “We Renegades.” A bonafide head-nodder, Andrews drops the sweet act and turns kick-ass aggressor as she issues a challenge for fakers to reveal themselves. If MdCL were to venture into music video territory, I could totally see it being one that pays homage to Pat Benetar‘s “Love Is A Battlefield.” Now I could be way off with this one, but just indulge me if you will. I see a street battle dance off with the winning team led by Andrews and her crew of badasses. This is the song that no matter where I am or what type of mood I’m in when it shuffles onto my iPod, I suddenly feel ready to conquer the world.
And that, dear SoulBouncers, concludes our world tour courtesy of producer-miracle maker Mark de Clive-Lowe. While nothing beats a real vacation, it’s hard not to feel that you’ve been treated to one with just one spin of Renegades. Filled to the brim with international sounds, MdCL weaves them all into a sound that’s undeniably his own, making this one trip I wouldn’t mind taking more often.