The dust has hardly settled since Slaves released their explosive album Are You Satisfied? to the world. The album reached number eight in the U.K. charts and was nominated for the 2015 Mercury Prize. The fact it got that award nod was due to the mix of scuzzy blues riffs and rampant energy: a duo fully calibrated and getting their teeth into every note. In a music scene with very few bona fide punk acts and pure examples: the Tunbridge Wells boys impressed with their authenticity and genuine fire. Having formed in 2012 and consisting guitarist-bassist-vocalist Laurie Vincent and drummer-vocalist Isaac Holman: a two-man army that showed huge evolution since their early days.
Since the E.P. Sugar Coated Bitter Truth came out in 2012; the boys climbed in stature and built on early promising. Collecting a nomination for BBC’s Sounds of 2015; they parlayed this into their debut album. Many critics noted the album – a little ambiguity in Are You Satisfied? – was not as sarcastic and snarky as the title might assume. The boys were disappointed and looking around a world that didn’t make sense – plenty of subject matter to get their heads around. From moody and moaning Londoners to complacent and First World problems among twentysomethings; it was all perfectly exposed on a terrific album. Realising the cessation of personality among pop stars and a certain sterilisation in music: all these elements fueled Are You Satisfied? and kicked against the disgruntled; adding verve and spit back into music.
One look at the duo and you might assume they have just wandered out of a local youth club or prison. The heavy tattoos and frowning faces; the shaved heads and general sense of menace – many were not sure how to take Slaves and what to make of them. They are just honest guys who live in the real world. The fact they are not airbrushed and designed by committees is a breath of fresh air in music. Whether cleverly jabbing at the passive (“You are not stuck in traffic”; “You are traffic…Move!”) or sneering at the overpaid Londoners stuck in the rat race – sad and depressed despite the fact they (consumers and workers) are better-off and more comfortable than most people.
The quickly released follow-up sees Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond of Beastie Boys take control of… Take Control. If their debut had some pop hooks and a sense of temporisation: their sophomore L.P. dispenses with that and packs virulent rage and splenetic dissatisfaction into every song. Spit It Out was the first single from the album and cuts to the core with lightning pace. Those sucking on their sour sweets; the train commuters waiting to complain: all of the prematurely aged and jaded are given a swift kick in the groin. Unwilling to empathise with those who tut and bitch about every slight delay and minor issue: Slaves advise them to get over themselves over screaming vocals and one of the heaviest compositions of the duo’s career. Hypnotised looks at sofa zombies and the T.V. slaves brainwashed and hooked. Chugging and propulsive yet one of the most accessible tracks on the album – it is also one of the early highlights.
Consume Or Be Consumed is the most Paul’s Boutique-sounding song on the album. Given Mike D’s role as producer (and collaborator on the track) it is not a surprise. Chainsaw samples and calypso/music hall organs fuse with crunching guitars and a narrative that mixes masturbatory showers with modern day anxieties. Play Dead is a huge blues monster that boasts incredible riffs and stomps around the city looking for carnage. It is another highlight and proves the lads can tone down the acceleration and screams and still sound as potent and dangerous. The albums two ‘skits’ (Mr. Industry and Gary) are throwaway but are short and casual enough as not to derail the album’s momentum – strangely, they are wonderful punctuation points and seem very natural. Cold Hard Floor is all twanging bass and elongated, laddish vocals. “Running from your problems” and “Hiding from the rain” will see the hero “Get wet one day”. A wake-up call to procrastinators and those that hide from their problems: it has ‘70s punk edges with a bit of Sex Pistols thrown in.
Mike D spoke about Take Control: “I feel right now the world needs an album like this. Something that is more raw, more alive and less polished. I was impressed with the band’s strong point of view. They actually speak their minds about social topics.” Diamond does not try to turn Slaves into Beastie Boys: instead, he brings out their full potential and ensures the album is more political, well-rounded and lo-fi. Inspiring, rousing and experimental – the boys switched instruments and played in different styles to keep it fresh – it is largely full-throttle with a few calmer moments (only due to some in-studio injuries sustained). There are a couple of weak moments and sixteen tracks is a little ambitious. Skim away the duff moments (F*** the Hi-Hat and People That You Meet are not as strong as one hopes) and you have an exceptional album. Mike D has brought more groove, layers and layers to the material but kept the core foundations strong and intact. In a time where we look for motivated mouthpieces to express the anger, disquiet and fear that pervades the world: Slaves step forward (without an invite or seduction) and lay it all on the line. It can get heavy and suffocating at times but (Take Control) is a record nuanced to the hilt and packing serious clout. Slaves have stated that if you stop making music you stop being relevant. On the evidence of Take Control: there is no danger of the duo being ignored.
Take Control is out now.