Basement Jaxx - Scars, Album Review

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Basement Jaxx
Scars
Ultra Records
out October 6th

68/100

[Rating Scale]

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Basement Jaxx are, at this point, an old group, as strange as that sounds. 2009’s Scars comes a full decade after the duo burst onto the dance music scene with Remedy, a longevity matched by few artists in today’s blog-and-youtube-and-download music culture. At this point, Basement Jaxx are pretty set in their ways – they got this far on the strength of quirky, vocal-centric house music that samples the instrumentation and character of R&B, funk, and more, while keeping it all unabashedly pop, and they’re not gonna change now. That said, there’s a reason Basement Jaxx are still putting out albums in 2009, and that’s because, although they have a formula, it’s a damn good one.

Scars is thus an exercise in execution – Basement Jaxx aren’t reinventing the wheel, just looking for a smooth ride. For the most part then, Scars is a success – these thirteen tracks are catchy, danceable, and thoroughly entertaining, if not ground-breaking. Starting off with the title track, Scars is a bit steadier than its predecessors – the beat thumping along throughout its 52 brisk minutes. It just feels like the product of an established, mature group; a polished, crisp sounding album.

This polish is present throughout,; the exuberant, dancing-in-the-rain feel of the appropriately named “Raindrops” is matched by the soaring vocals repeating through it – which raises another point in favor of longevity. Having been around for as long as Basement Jaxx has, they’re collected quite a roster of guest vocalists – familiar faces such as Kelis, Santigold, and Lisa Kekaula, as well as standout newcomers like Sam Sparro, Yo Majesty and Lightspeed Champion. For the most part, vocalists are well chosen and fit in with the music seamlessly, although “Day of the Sunflowers” proves that Yoko Ono can find a way to be annoying no matter what the context, and is a somewhat bizarre pairing.

This is in contrast with Lightspeed Champion, aka Dev Hynes’ excellent work on “My Turn,” which rivals “Raindrops” and “Twerk” for the much-sought-after title of "Catchiest Tune on Scars."Hyne’s plaintive vocals soar over the bumping bassline, contrasting the acoustic guitar intro and keeping the samples and quirks grounded.

That said, when Scars slows down, such as on “Stay Close,” it has a tendency to drag a bit, as the Jaxx style is just better suited for making you dance. Instead, the album’s strongest tracks are the ones most likely to get you grooving, and in what is a testament to Basement Jaxx, they manage to incorporate a breadth of styles – dancehall on “Saga,” R&B on “Twerk,” power-ballads in “Raindrops,” without losing their distinctive sound.

Ultimately, there’s not that much to say about Scars if you’re already familiar with Basement Jaxx – if you like their style, you’ll like the album, and if not, well, this isn’t going to change your mind. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to like here, and the best tracks are going to be playing on repeat on your ipod and in your head for quite a while.

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