Manchester family Space Afrika's Dais debut is a sprawling, genre melted tapestry of charged diasporic innovation and unshakably Northern, British working class eccentricity >> Like Dean Blunt, DJ Spooky, Cocteau Twins, Klein, West Mineral, Tricky, Third Eye Foundation, Actress 'n Michael Nyman boiled into a waxy narrative epic, 'Honest Labour' is as smoky and mysterious as it is rewarding. Undoubtedly one of the most viscerally affecting records of 2021.
Since 2014's "Above The Concrete / Below The Concrete" Joshua Inyang and Joshua Tarelle have been drawing a complex blueprint, displaying their influences and re-drawing each element to fit their ambitious creative vision. Initially spurred on by nth wave dub techno, and Raster Noton 'n Mille Plateaux's glacial, arty minimalism, the duo dug deeper into their shared musical DNA on 2018's sferic-released "Somewhere Decent to Live". This time they anchored their productions in 'nuum history, liquefying garage, jungle and grime hallmarks into glistening trails of pulses, pads and gestures.
Spurred on by last summer's global anti-racist protests, the duo widened their sonic universe with "Hybtwibt?", a heady collage of political subterfuge, biography and raw emotion. It was a rap beat tape without beats or raps, or an ambient album that had shelved the ambience completely, leaving inverted space and covert cinematic storytelling. This year's short, sharp "Untitled (To Describe You) OST" offered similar brainfood, mulling over concepts of identity and class with traces of drill and musique concrete.
'Honest Labour' is the sum of these component parts, and Inyang and Tarelle's defining statement to date. It's a fully silver-lined patchwork of high and low cultural squares that dissolves class, race and state identifiers in searing washes of familiarity and anxious experimentation. The euphoric post-jungle sparkle of tracks like 'yyyyyy2222' and 'solemn' is cut with warbling vocal dream pop ('indigo grit' and 'rings'), post-SND beat fukkery ('ny interlude') and k-holed industrial fuzz ('ladybird drone', 'like orchids').
But it's the duo's use of trip-hop and illbient tropes that truly tips their sound into jaw-to-the-floor territory. Standout single 'B£E' welds a vivid rap from MCR's Blackhaine over eroding breaks that sound like they've fallen off the back of Tricky's misunderstood "Nearly God" album. As words spell out a rainy working class reality where hope cracks thru grey concrete, Tarelle and Inyang bleed orchestral strings into the mix until they drown the rhythm completely. It's Massive Attack's 'Unfinished Sympathy' completed finally, evolved in a battle-scarred south Manchester petri dish.
"Honest Labour" is a Black British story that painstakingly weaves theory and raw open wounds with a passion for discovery and obsessive ear for sound. It's an album that linx Goldie's euphoric melancholy with Tricky's gender-flexing working class poetics, Actress's fuzzed-out high-minded syfy storytelling and Klein's noizy theatrical experimentation. It's one of 2021's most essential albums so far >> no doubt.