London duo forges strikingly contemporary pop from an alternative future.
Tom Hocknell 2012-11-01
London-based duo Stubborn Heart have followed white label hype by signing to One Little Indian, which may well be the pair’s spiritual home. Now they sit beside veterans Björk and A. R. Kane; all three are acts that carved early niches for themselves.
This eponymous collection is a brave debut. Penetrate drops like some kind of electronic sonar, as Luca Santucci’s vocal pleasingly recalls the plaintive alt-pop of When Saints Go Machine. It’s a perfect showcase for the lonely soul, framed by breakbeats and a blur of city hum, as emotions and busy lives fight for air.
The dubstep of Better Than This pleads “You can do so much better,” while thrumming bass pulls you close: into a claustrophobia thankfully remembering its melodic hook. It’s like a less-stoned Mezzanine-era Massive Attack.
Two Times a Maybe takes this even further. It’s the sound of machines locked in a room, with bass to demolish the walls, backing Santucci’s doubtful duet with vocal loops until you fear he’s been left alone too long.
The underwater blues of Interpol nods to both Art of Noise and Aphex Twin – despite its discordance, it binds such a spell that its abrupt end feels like betrayal. Their cover of the already otherworldly northern soul cut It’s Not That Easy suits them perfectly, and is a welcome break in the clouds, albeit one still looking worriedly over its shoulder.
In places, the dense arrangements are relentless, but thankfully the blue-eyed soul of To Catch a Spark and comparatively breezy single Need Someone, with its slowed house pianos akin to Jamie xx’s remixing of Gil Scott-Heron, recover the record from some overly heavy meandering.
There are no hits here, the listening exclusively moody – and if it were any more atmospheric it’d be a planet. Yet somehow, like James Blake and SBTRKT before them, Stubborn Heart have forged strikingly contemporary pop from an alternative future.