Sunday, 2 March 2014

Album of the Week #15

Artist: Ceiling Demons
Album: Dual Sides
Year: 2013
Label: EmuBands

Atmospheric hip-hop with pop flourishes

I'm seemingly on a bit of a crusade to dispel a common myth at the moment. Since stating that UK hip-hop is a dirty phrase around a month back, two top quality albums from the genre have since come under the spotlight and been the album of the week on the blog. The next chapter is some hip-hop from Ceiling Demons, a hip-hop trio not from New York, or Detroit, or even London, but from North Yorkshire. Sure, it's not where you necessarily think would be fostering hip-hop talent, but Ceiling Demons are trying to change all that.

Fresh from supporting the critically-lauded Young Fathers on their recent UK tour, Dual Sides is a record that most immediately recalls that brand of slightly avant-garde UK hip-hop. The sound is atmospheric, the production string-laden and the lyrics often addressing serious themes of life and death. MCs Psy Ceiling and Dan Demon certainly don't hold back in their vocal delivery and at times it's pretty hard-hitting stuff. It may sound like an inherently dark record, but that's not entirely the case.

Dual Sides is an exhausting listen. The flow is relentless throughout, even if the Yorkshire-inflected rapping does take some getting used to, and the raw emotion in tunes such as The Mirror's Image and Someone Great makes for an intense listen. Follow the Compass is utterly frenetic and barely takes a second to draw breath, with the repetition of the title in its outro acting as a mantra and as a symbol of the album's overall sound. It's become a bit of a cliche for groups to say that they only really made a record for themselves (and if anybody else likes it, that's a bonus), but Ceiling Demons genuinely seemed to follow the path that they wanted to follow and made the record that they wanted to make.

If the title Follow the Compass is symbolic of the album's aesthetic, then the superb album closer Heartstrings is the ultimate symbol of everything that's good about the group. Awash with strings, backed by a choir and possessing a stunning vocal outro, it's powerful yet delicate, gritty yet poppy and epic yet understated. The heartfelt lyrics are finely balanced with pop flourishes, and that's arguably the one thing that sets this album apart from its contemporaries. You might expect an album packed full of such emotion to be a bit of a challenging listen, but Ceiling Demons have instead balanced this out to make it a more accessible listen. Ultimately the record is made all the better for it.

Every Step is Moving Me Up is arguably the poppiest moment of the album, but in context it makes perfect sense. It's a perfect entry point into the world of Dual Sides, a world that rewards repeated listens. Immerse yourself in this album and you'll soon find it's more evidence of the now compelling case for the renaissance of UK hip-hop.

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