Malachai – Return to the Ugly Side

Release Date : 28/02/2011 (Domino Records)
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Malachai Return to the Ugly Side

Malachai are a Bristol based duo, [allegedly] discovered by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and this ‘Return to the Ugly Side’ is their second outing. A sequel, if you will, to 2010’s ‘Ugly Side of Love’, this record sounds more polished, more grown-up and it wants commercial success. Where ‘Ugly Side of Love’ was lo-fi, stripped down and feeling more experimental, Return to leans more towards cultivating their sound,  concentrating more on the music than the ideas.


Opener ‘Monsters’ is a clean, menacing piece of down-beat trip-hop with added violins and trumpets. It’s an epic start to what quickly becomes dirty beats, laid back tempo and possibly the most ‘Bristol’ sounding record I’ve heard in a long time. ‘Anne’ ushers in Jason Learo’s echoed stoner vocals over drum loops. Hip-hop beats are changed for guitar riffs for ‘Mid Antartica’. It feels like there may have been more ideas in these tracks than we’re actually hearing. The experimental aspects of their previous record are still present, but with more restraint this time around. ‘Rainbows’ was the highlight of the record for me; a delicious boy-girl duet with newcomer Katy Wainwright. It’s an obvious single, yet completely at odds with the rest of the record. Synths are subtle and used to minimum effect a’ la Portishead. ‘(My) Ambulance’ follows as a frantic piece of sixties psycho-pop; Beatles-esque vocals over drum and bass tempo sounding insane enough to work. Stark ‘Distance’ couldn’t be more different. Malachai are changeable to say the least. Piano and bongos back Learo’s soul searching vocal to form the kind of soundtrack you’d like take peyote to at Joshua Tree. ‘Monster’ is more typical fair for Malachai. Trip-hop beats and echoed vocals feel where they are most comfortable. ‘Snake Eyes’ returns to the opening themes of piano and violins to set closure to the album. Bridging into final track ‘HyberNation’ which uses Learo’s vocal as soul workout with Radiohead strumming.

‘Return to The Ugly’ was a difficult album to like on first listen, and while other reviewers have been less kind to their slightly mid-nineties trip-hop feel, I think it’s the restraint shown against taking any real risks that gave me more issue. Malachai clearly have a lot of ideas, which (feels like) have sadly been stifled in the quest to shift units. Less attention to production and more adventure could have yielded some absolute gems here. This is still an accomplished record, but I think there is more to this duo than ‘Return to the Ugly Side’ would have us believe.

Mike Conyard