- Explaining precisely what it is that London's Maribou State do is not easy. Like James Blake and Chet Faker, they employ bass music's neon synths and rhythmic glitches in the service of sad songs rather than dance floor bangers. But there is something a little more knowingly retro about Maribou State, too. In a similar way to Groove Armada or Bonobo, the duo's sound—eclectic, largely downtempo and with an emphasis on live musicianship—is steeped in classic hip-hop, soul, funk, even 1960s folk music. Fundamentally, their debut album, Portraits, is updated trip-hop.
With their vintage drum sounds, layers of vinyl crackle and polished songwriting, Maribou State seem keen to assert a sense of history and authenticity in their music. They are seeking, imaginably, to deliver something more deep and meaningful than the average club track. However, like their much-vaunted soulfulness, that concept feels nebulous. On the sub-Portishead "Steal" and "Say More," or in the retro R&B of "Midas," Maribou State deploy the familiar signifiers of pain—doleful bass, plangent keys, smouldering vocals—but fail to convey any real emotional anguish.
Portraits resonates at a level of button-pushing sentimentality, but Maribou State are such deft directors of their sound, and so melodically gifted, that they still create moments of magic. "Natural Fools" channels The xx, while "The Clown" (Chicago house pianos, heart-tugging vocals, disruptive dubstep synths) is a great melancholy pop track. They can go big, too. "Wallflowers" and "Rituals" are cinematic slabs of electronica, all soaring peaks and minor-key vulnerability, and could both trigger huge festival moments or soundtrack thousands of comedown sessions. In such enigmatic pieces, Maribou State shrug off the weight of history.
02. The Clown feat. Pedestrian
04. Steal feat. Holly Walker
06. Say More feat. Jono McCleery
08. Midas feat. Holly Walker
09. Natural Fools