Review Summary: This sounds like Radiohead jamming with Massive Attack.
Sometimes I, as a reviewer, find it difficult to find something to put at the beginning of a review to get people interested. Sometimes, there just isn't a snappy quote or funny story or diverting analogy good enough to grab a reader's attention from the off. Thank the lord, then, for the Leeds-based five piece Stateless - a band who takes influence from such critically and commercially revered sources, and then wears those influences so proudly that they're unmistakable. Stateless are a sad, piano-led rock band playing around with trip-hop, lifting gleefully from all the obvious sources. Really, the superlatives write themselves.
Naturally, the comparison of Radiohead-meets-Massive Attack, thanks to the fact that you'll automatically assume that it's OK Computer
and Kid A
meeting Blue Lines
, makes them sound like the best band in the world. They're not. Instead, it's more like the Massive Attack of 1000th Window
meeting the more recent Coldplay albums, with Scott Matthews on vocals and guitars thrown out of the window on all but one track. It's lightly melodramatic, high on atmosphere, indebted to hip-hop without bowing to its conventions, and it's full of beautiful melodies. DJ Shadow might actually be a better reference point for the hip-hop influence here, given that the Stateless vocalist, Chris James, contributed to two tracks on The Outsider
, and the one album that feels more like an obvious precedent for this is UNKLE's Psyence Fiction
. "Radiokiller" could have come from The Private Press
, too. Shadow himself has been full of praise for the band, describing the band as 'the closest thing to perfection I've heard in a long time' and inviting them to support him on his world tour. He's not the only one in the hip-hop community who's got an interest in the band, either - fellow Shadow collaborator Lateef the Truthspeaker adds a rap to the viola-heavy "The Language".
So their sound is perfect, and their influences are perfectly chosen. That test, at least, they pass with flying colours. The songs, though? They're excellent. The highlight on first listen is first single "Down Here" - bouyed by a moody minor key piano ostinato, the lightly distorted vocals that start the song in resigned fashion give way to a sweeping Jeff Buckley-esque chorus that shows off the impressive versatility of Chris James' voice to great effect. The first three tracks are so good, though, that you might not even get there on the first listen. "Bloodstream" is the finest of those three, thanks to the gentle lift-off achieved by the 'I think I might have inhaled you...' refrain. It's among the finest love songs of the year, even if it does sound like James is admitting defeat when he sighs 'you've gotten into my bloodstream'.
The second half of the record is generally more subdued and understated than the first, a balance reminiscent of the similarly skyscraping Guillemots album Through The Windowpane
. The contrast in quality is the same, too - while everything from "Prism #1" through "Radiokiller" is instant, the second half needs time to grow on the listener. And yet, there's only one moment where the band's gifts for arrangements that skilfully create tension and release without breaking the mood, and Chris James' gift for spinning a great hook seemingly out of nothing, isn't on display - that's "Bluetrace", which is boring for nearly four minutes, then bursts into life and becomes very noisy for no reason whatsoever. It's probably a good song to do live, but here it just doesn't work. That track brings the album to a crashing halt which the pretty "Inscape" can't rectify, and knocks half a mark off the rating instantly. On the other hand, "Crash", which sounds not entirely unlike something from Martin Grech's Open Heart Zoo
, is a perfect example of the fact that when this band gets things right, they get it very, very right. Even when James resorts to bland statements, as he occasionally does, he's entirely believable.
Exactly where Stateless came from and how they've managed to remain a minor concern for this long baffles me. Yet, they're little short of perfect, and they piss all over a local scene that's smug with itself for having produced tripe like The Kaiser Cheifs and Forward Russia. It must also be noted that the production, handled by Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, UNKLE, Lamb, Kasabian etc.), is absolutely top-notch.
No band in 2007 is showing as much potential as Stateless. They might be dismissed as one trick ponies by the most cynical of critics, but when that one trick is so perfectly executed, what's the problem? They have the scope, the talent, and the finesse; with a little experience these guys could become something incredible. Perhaps it's misleading to describe this album as exciting, given that the emphasis is on wistful melancholia, but that's how it makes me feel. As great as this record is, I'm already looking toward the next one. Whether they'll match or surpass their influences is a matter of debate, but they're in with a shot. Actually, stacked against the debuts of their obvious heroes, this stands up very well. It's certainly no Endtroducing...
, nor is it on the level of Grace
, but it's better than Pablo Honey
, and even Blue Lines
Album of the year? It's up there.