Thavius Beck: The Most Beautiful Ugly

So I spent my Sunday listening to the latest album from LA based Thavius Beck, ‘The Most Beautiful Ugly’.

Before I even begin tell you about the sound, take a look at the album art.

At the centre, a digital face with Thavius’ likeness fixes the listener with an intense stare, further heightened by the snatches of imagery warped inside the outline of his hair. It hints at a city struck by lightning, bordered with flames and meteors burning around the creator’s cranium. The blank stare, directly into the eyes of the beholder, converges this imagery into an idea, fixed on us with an unwavering concentration.

At least that’s what I see, now I’ve heard the noise it represents.

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Roots Manuva @ Concorde 2

Roots Manuva on stageThe entire set for Roots Manuva’s tour date at the Concorde 2 could be a representation of two sides of popular music. On one hand, it’s serious business, and on the other, pure hedonistic fun. Roots starts the night as a figure to revere, dressed in a black suit and bowler hat, contrasted by a red bow tie and accompanied by a dark green jacket. He could be a parody of a teacher, and his famous lyrical talent gives the air of a learned man on the mic. As the band moves into the second set, he loses the hat and jacket, visibly relaxing, showing a more fun, comedic character.

For the first set, kicked off by ‘Here we Go Again’ from his latest album, 4everevolution, much of the energy comes from his live band, and two very charismatic accompanying vocalists. The term “backing singers” doesn’t do justice to the amount of rapping, singing and crowd pleasing these two guys do. Acting more like accompanying frontmen, they’re an extension of Roots’ persona. The band, a live drum kit, DJ, keyboards and guitarist along with his two accompanying vocalists keep the energy on stage flowing out into the crowd. Roots himself is an oasis of confident charm, grounding the performance and somehow channelling the energy by way of his sophisticated charisma. There’s no escaping the fact that the whole world, for this evening at least, revolves around one man.

Then the set ends, the band leave the stage and the lights go down. Roots Manuva on stageThe crowd noise swells up to a deafening level in such a channelled venue and the band comes back on, kicking up the groove for the first track of the second set. This time Roots bounds back on stage, performing windmills with one arm in time to the music, taking on an entirely new, fun persona. As though he’s been storing everything up, biding his time so he can blow us away with everything now.

The second set is where the fun factor of popular music diffuses through the atmosphere. To make quite a sweeping statement about the contrasting sets, the music switches from a serious Brixton vibe to become more recognisably Reggae and Caribbean. Funnily enough, although we’re there to see Roots, the highlight of the second set for me was the song ‘Move ya shoulder’ performed by one of the accompanying vocalists: Seanie T feat Roots.

Roots Manuva on stage

Brand New Second Hand – Roots Manuva

Long story short, I ended up with a copy of ‘Brand New Second Hand’ in my possession, and got the same spine tingles from the first listen as when I started to ‘get’ Radiohead’s Kid A, which isn’t a comparison I make lightly.

Brand New Second Hand CDThe name ‘Roots Manuva’ (real name Rodney Smith) bubbled around the back of my musical consciousness throughout my teens. While I was way more into punk as a kid, I wasn’t completely unaware of the massively popular hip hop scene and a few of the more prominent acts, which at the time were mostly American. I became consciously aware of Roots when I first discovered his collaboration with the Cinematic Orchestra on ‘All things to All Men,’ where his lyrics, his flow, the distinctive sound of his voice lead me to seek out what else he’d been up to. Also, anyone who appears with the CO is going to have me googling their names sooner or later.

I  don’t know if it’s just because of all my years playing drums, ignoring singers and just locking onto the bassist, but on the first listen the lyrical flow felt like the backing to an incredible rhythm and bass sound permeating the whole CD. Its a repetitive electronic sound that manages to groove and keep a relaxed but insistent momentum going.

Yet, the more I listened to each track, the more the lyrics started to stand out and Roots’ skills as a rapper became clear. That’s where my comparison to Radiohead comes from,  this is one of those rare CD’s that gives you more and more every time you play it. Reviews from the time referred to Roots as the first credible rapper the UK scene had produced and its easy to see why, but his vocals go beyond that.

Check out Roots Manuva’s style of braggadocio on Clockwork:

“Ain’t nuttin’ but this uncut croughness I bring/Don’t care ’bout no fide I do my own ting/Giving chase in this rat race, fears we face/and me be on the case, proud plus brave”

Rapping in a “Brixton patois“, he adds a performance element to his lyrics that allow them to communicate as much about the man and his background with every line and rhyme as the words themselves when written down. The same steady flow that comes from the bass is also apparent in his vocal delivery, and he still finds room to include lyrics that still feel fresh, they’d still sound just as good springing from a rapper today, almost 13 years later.

This aint your usual rap album of the late 90s, its honest, true and just feels so damn good to listen to.

Released in ’99, I was too young to appreciate it on release, so I picked it up for £4.99 this weekend and its difficult to say exactly how much of  a bargain that was. I’ll definitely have to add my thoughts after the live show coming up at concorde 2 on 31st Jan.

Check Out:

The CD (as though you didn’t realise that was my opinion from the completely understated review.)

Roots Manuva’s site

Pitchfork Review