Malachai’s The Ugly Side Of Love was the most exciting debut album of 2010. The Bristol duo’s marriage of late-60’s UK psych and trip-hop was as inspired as it was breathtakingly original. Less than a year later they’ve returned with Return To The Ugly Side, which references the title of their debut but trades in that album’s warm 1960’s stylings (both sampled and performed live) for a colder and harsher sound that recalls Portishead (whose Geoff Barrow has collaborated with Malachai in the past), and other far less savory 1990’s electronica/trip-hop types. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the album as a whole, and its fourteen songs breeze by in a very tidy thirty-five minutes. However, it can’t compete with the high standard Malachai set for themselves with under-appreciated songs like “Snowflake” and “Shitkickers”. Worse, they take some ill-advised musical detours into areas best left alone, such as the drum and bass experiment of “(My) Ambulance” and the Prodigy-esque “Mid Antartica (Wearin’ Sandals), which make you wonder if the ship has gone off course.
’60s revivalists usually have an easy time capturing the songwriting style of the era, but inevitably have a much harder time reproducing the recording style accurately. Bristol duo Malachai (recently changed from Malakai) flip the script on that formula with thoroughly modern songwriting, but production that sounds as though it was ripped from some long lost ’60s psychedelic record. Given their penchant for sampling and crate-digging that may actually be how they made Ugly Side Of Love. It’s hard to tell just how Ugly Side Of Love was pieced together since only two samples are credited, but you’d be hard-pressed to believe there aren’t others. Opener “Warriors” is a perfect example of the adventurous genre-mixing Malachai are capable of: The music appears to be a sampled break from an obscure band trying to be The Jimi Hendrix Experience, singer Gee Ealey sings with a Jamaican inflection and the lyrics are about the 1979 classic film The Warriors – the only signpost that this song isn’t from the 1960s. “Shitkickers” is a lively song with an air-tight hip-swinging groove and galloping guitars mixed with what may be DJ scratching, although it’s hard to tell. Elsewhere, “Blackbird” is what trip-hop would have sounded like if The Small Faces invented it in 1968. Never predictable, always enjoyable, Malachai have stumbled onto a winning formula for songs that are forward-thinking and just downright fun. It’s no wonder they caught the ear of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, who released this album on his own Invada imprint, and co-wrote the sparse beat-driven song “Only For You”. If The Ugly Side Of Love is any indication, he won’t be the last person impressed with their talents.