- The duo reach new emotional heights on this feature-heavy paean to their hometown of Manchester.
- Space Afrika, the Manchester-rooted duo of Joshua Tarelle and Joshua Inyang, have undergone a remarkable transformation over the past five years. Originally emerging as dub techno acolytes, they've gradually dissolved their sound into something less functional and more poetic. A turning point came during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, when Tarelle and Inyang released a radio show-cum-mixtape called hybtwibt?. Full of field recordings, samples and spoken word, this work reimagined Space Afrika as an audio collage unit exploring a singular brand of political hypnagogia—the Black British experience as seen through the rain-slicked windows of the night bus.
With this creative head of steam, Space Afrika have now signed with Dais Records—a label best known for various strands of goth, wave, industrial and noise—for their latest LP, Honest Labour. By all standards, this should be Space Afrika's moment in the sun. Instead, Tarelle and Inyang deliver a sprawling, feature-heavy LP that showcases the community and city that formed them: Manchester.
This dedication to locale informs every aspect of Honest Labour, from the artwork—which Tarelle recently described as "Manchester in the rain, hoods up, nighttime, lamp posts, puddles, amber lights beaming and Tibyan (Mahawah Sanoh, collaborator) at our bus stop. Real beauty"—to its UK-steeped sound. Honest Labour spans post-punk, trip-hop and blurry Actress and Burial-indebted soundscapes, often in a matter of minutes. "LV" juxtaposes blasts of static and spectral howls with 4AD-style guitar and delicate string synths. After some mixtape style trip-hop and ambient interludes, we end up at the album's single, "B£E," featuring the Salford-based MC Blackhaine.
"B£E" serves as a centrepiece for the swirl of ideas churning within Honest Labour. The title references the Manchester worker bee, one of the city's best-known symbols and a callback to the album's title. "All alone in the flat all I see is cracked windows / I'm putting hazed in the air / Dressed in black / Do you think I care," Blackhaine raps over corroded boom-bap that eventually dissolves into dramatic, plaintive strings. Like Burial, Inyang and Tarelle (and Blackhaine) are documenting the grit as well as the elusive beauty of the rainy streets, the post-industrial city. "Ambient is usually associated with natural sounds," Tarelle told Crack, "but what we do is inner-city ambient for chaotic living."
Space Afrika are now accomplished enough as producers to flit between styles the way they do while DJing on their deep-digging NTS show. Still, some conventions emerge over the course of the album. When the female guests sing, it's mostly in an ethereal coo, as heard on various features from Guest (AKA Jasmine Butt of Jabu), or Bianca Scout's excellent Elizabeth Fraser-esque performance on "Girl Scout Cookies." The men mostly show up with stoic, highly descriptive rap verses, LA Timpa's spectral late-album appearance being a notable exception.
This tendency to fall into roles makes the handful of uncredited spoken-word pieces stand out. At the end of "Indigo Grit," a woman is interviewed on the ineffable nature of love. My favourite cut on the album, the dead minimal "Preparing The Perfect Response," features another speech from an unknown subject. "I realize that I'm not the nicest person in the whole world... I tend to shut people out a lot, and the reason being is because I've been hurt a lot," she says. "But I know my life has purpose, and God has a plan for my life... so many people search and search to find their true purpose, and the truth of the matter is, your true purpose you will find when you speak from thy heart."
A tremulous cello saws away in the background, recalling the work of Downtown legends like Arthur Russell or Street Hassle-era Lou Reed. Like Reed, Tarelle and Inyang are involved in gritty, street-level investigative poetics. On Honest Labour, they sift through myriad 21st-century electronic styles and invite a chorus of Mancunian voices to document a shared experience. This is detective work, through which they hope to discover their own place—figuratively and literally—a sense of purpose, of honest labour.
02. Indigo Grit feat. guest
03. Lose You Beau
06. Preparing The Perfect Response ~
07. Ny Interlude
08. Rings ft. guest
09. Noise Sweet
10. B£E feat. Blackhaine
11. Like Orchids
12. Meet Me At Sachas
13. U feat. kinseyLloyd
15. Girl Scout Cookies feat. Bianca Scout
16. Ladybird Drone
17. With Your Touch
18. Strength feat. LA Timpa
19. Honest Labour feat. HforSpirit