Clean Bandit – New Eyes

Clean Bandit - New Eyes

Clean Bandit’s album New Eyes, featuring the hit Rather Be

Rather Be is a rather unassuming song. Even though it has become a hit (#1 in the UK, Top 20 in North America), and despite its prominent classical string section over a light electronic beat, it has blended in quite well, but disappointingly not really standing apart from today’s mixture of pop hits. There’s a wide enough array out there in the pop landscape right now that if you have something different to offer, this might not be the best time to try and deliver.

But sitting down with the track away from the distraction of other music, it shines. It’s a pop song first and foremost but it’s freshly layered with classical music behind Jess Glynne‘s soulfully bliss vocals. Pretty soon, after some quick research, I learn that Clean Bandit actually incorporates classical music from composers like Mozart into their music.

Suddenly I’m more intrigued.

Clean Bandit are an electronic group consisting of four members who all play instruments on the recordings, including the stringed ones, with featured guest vocalists.

Album opener Mozart’s House instantly shows their tendencies toward classical music as a portion of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 21 plays over an electronic beat. This immediately following the introduction that yes, electronic music is repetitive, but why is that a bad thing?

That basic self-awareness allows Clean Bandit to expand the boundaries of expected norms, which in turn allows their songs to sometimes be quirky either in the lyrics or melodies. The range of styles on the record reflect this freedom and they do it without sounding pretentious. The classical elements don’t make the album “smart” as much as they simply add to the fun.

Beyond the obvious, New Eyes incorporates other genres that fit within such as soul, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and R&B. The vaguely undefinable (and probably ignorant) label “world music” sometimes comes to mind in songs like Telephone Banking or Come Over because their sound encompasses influences from so many places.

Such a wide variety contributes to making it truly infectious. Try to listen to Come Over just once without singing “you bring me sun sun sun sunshine,” while Up Again is one of the best ballads to come out this year.

For such a fusion of different styles, it’s hard to really pinpoint where Clean Bandit fit on the musical spectrum. There are songs on New Eyes that can appeal to just about anyone but at the same time, it’s almost too niche. It’s unlikely to appeal to electronic fans nor lovers of classical music.

The album is refreshing but it’s not likely to have much staying power once initial interest in it wanes, but it could serve as a gateway into other styles of music. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is “experimental” but it does make the mind want to explore.

My one regret with New Eyes is having not discovered it before summer began as it would have made for an awesome soundtrack for those hot and sunny summer days.
Four stars

Tracklisting
1. Mozart’s House [featuring Love Ssega]
2. Extraordinary [featuring Sharna Bass]
3. Dust Clears [featuring Noonie Bao]
4. Rather Be [featuring Jess Glynne]
5. A&E [featuring Kandaka Moore & Nikki Cislyn]
6. Come Over [featuring Stylo G]
7. Cologne [featuring Nikki Cislyn & Javeon]
8. Telephone Banking [featuring Love Ssega]
9. Up Again [featuring Rae Morris]
10. Heart On Fire [featuring Elisabeth Troy]
11. New Eyes [featuring Lizzo]
12. Birch [featuring Eliza Shaddad]
13. Outro Movement III

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