- The Jamaican group's third LP disappoints in its attempt to reach a wider audience.
- In last month's issue of The Wire, Equiknoxx vocalist Shanique Marie warned that their new sound would take fans by surprise. "There's a little singing, there's a little deejaying, there's a little rapping," she said, using a Jamaican term that refers to dancehall's conversational vocal style, not to be confused with DJing. "This album will be able to touch the palates of a wider variety of people." The first two Equiknoxx LPs (both RA recommended) were collections of instrumental tracks: avant-garde riddims loosely based in dancehall, with devastating rhythmic maneuvers and wildly inventive sample work. Since then, the Jamaican crew has expanded from a two-person production outfit to a five-piece collective with vocalists, and their third album, Eternal Children, is their attempt at writing fleshed-out pop songs, not just tracks. But pop music requires a musicality and a songcraft that is missing here.
Since Demdike Stare put out the first Equiknoxx LP, they've been adopted by a niche, experimental-leaning audience. With Eternal Children, they're clearly trying to widen their appeal, but, in breaking open their approach so drastically, they end up sounding confused. The first tune opens with Shanique Marie's spoken-word couplets about dungeons and dragons, delivered in a kind of limerick metre, with a darkness reminiscent of musical theater. Bells toll over a quiet beat that fits with her spooky tone, but musically it doesn't quite come together.
"Brooklyn" sounds like something from the mid-'00s electro-rap boom. It contains none of the cleverness or eccentricity that we've come to expect from Equiknoxx. The lyrics, like the beat, are awkwardly simplistic: "Color me happy / Color me sad / Color me good / Color me bad." On "Corner," Shanique Marie shines on an otherwise plain instrumental, with a vocal delivery that's dynamic and full of personality, moving effortlessly between singing and a dextrous dancehall chat. The song starts to veer off-piste when they introduce an overdriven guitar part halfway through, a symptom of cramming in too many ideas. Like the other tracks, it might have benefited from some kind of A-B-A-B song structure.
If the goal for Eternal Children was to break the mold while still generating pop appeal, they do that best on "Manchester." Guest MCs Fox and Brent Bird, from the UK crew Swing Ting, both give strong performances over a dubby, sensual beat that will definitely get bodies moving. But from here the album's flow stops making sense, as we go from the poetic abstraction of "Good Sandra" to the bluesy but half-baked "Move Along," where the vocal part isn't particularly well tailored to the mood or melody of the instrumental. The album ends with the sugar-sweet ballad "Rescue Me," whose overpolished acoustic guitar makes it weirdly antiseptic.
Jamaican pop has produced some of the sweetest melodies of the last decade, from Gyptian's "Nah Let Go" to Vybz Kartel's "Hold It" and Kranium's "Nobody Has To Know," but the romantic sentiment on "Rescue Me" feels like Stevia by comparison. It's not like Equiknoxx are incapable of doing pop or more traditional dancehall—their singles for Swing Ting, "Bubble" and "Fly Away," were both crowd-friendly bangers. Sharda and Shanique Marie's "Wanna Know" was bubbly garage house at its finest. Maybe, in trying to "touch the palates of a wider variety of people," they ended up spreading their sound too thin. After all, you can't expect to please everyone.
01. Solomon Is A Cup
04. Manchester feat. Brent Bird & Fox
05. Good Sandra
06. Move Along
07. Grave feat. Alozade
08. Rescue Me