THEY., as a duo, jut out sonically and sartorially from our ’17 On The Frontline Series’. The former, with their audacious blend of punky flecks and R&B textures – and the latter with their stonewashed denim jackets and head-wrapped bandannas. Both of these characteristics make quite the statement – and they don’t shy away from verbalising them: “This is a new agenda we are trying to push, we want to be alternative, we want to blend different genres together and take little pieces of what we like and fuse it together.”
And that’s exactly what they do with ‘Nü Religion: Hyena’: the drums clash, clang and flutter quite unlike the more rigid patterns of today’s R&B; the ghostly, harmonised vocals constantly morph and modulate, drawing on a plethora of geographical influences; and the upshot of these artistic chess moves is extremely impressive. ‘Nü Religion: Hyena’, then, is less of an experimental project, and more of compelling argument: R&B, hip-hop, rock, funk – these are merely categories that we confer upon particular albums and artists because we – as fans – like to make sense of them. They don’t belong, intrinsically, to the sounds themselves. So, if we spend less time compartmentalising and more time listening – we can start appreciating these projects for what they really are: carefully moulded sound.
After that little rant, you’re probably wondering why, in the second line, I implied that the album in question was in fact R&B – well, that was really for ease of reference; ‘Nü Religion: Hyena’, as the duo themselves assert, is ‘alternative’ – but not the kind of not-quite this-not-quite-that kind of alternative that many acts fall into. Alternative, in this context, is more about amalgamation. ‘Africa’ for example, utilises tweaked trap drum patterns in service of a culturally cathartic groove with jaunty synths and layered crooning; ‘Motley Crew’, with its recurring, Nirvana-esque guitar riff, culminates in a triumphant call to arms with thumping bass that Future would be proud of; and Dante dials in some James Blake electronica for ‘Truth Be Told’ just to keep the listener honest.
However, despite the far-reaching influences and daring musical chemistry employed by THEY on ‘Nü Religion: Hyena’, the tracks aren’t simply bolted together. Dante’s zippy, complex drum patterns keep the project tightly focused, and Drew Love’s ghostly falsetto – although operating in a variety of ways throughout the project – preserves a semblance of homogeneity to keep the record’s vision intact.
‘Nü Religion: Hyena’, then, is not merely an excellent project – it’s an important project for music moving forward in 2017. Don’t get too caught up in the gorgeous melodies and the compelling rhythms – this album (and this duo) come with a message: don’t just push the boundaries – knock them down. Create something new.