As an act, Dutty Moonshine has gone through many different changes. I remember my first time seeing them – back when the act was a duo – at the first ever Swingamajig festival in 2013. I was lucky enough to catch founding member Furley’s last ever show at Boomtown 2014; and then the first performance of the big band at Swingamajig 2015 as well. Alongside several shows during Danny Wav’s brief stint with the act, and solo DJ sets from main man Mike Rack as well, I think I’ve seen pretty much every incarnation of the act. This new release – City of Sin, out on the 17th of April – is their first on a major label, having just signed to Universal. Most Wanted, their previous album received some serious acclaim throughout the electro swing world, so needless to say, this album has been highly anticipated.
Opening the record is ‘Big Band Fam’, which features the type of colossal, heavy-bass sounds that one has come to expect from this act. These are the type of tunes that a DJ might generally choose to end a set, therefore demonstrating that with this release we’re getting thrown in the deep end from the very beginning. Both MCs feature on this track, with a clear grime influence in both of their respective flows, and musically, some of the sounds of garage throughout as well. The energy is maintained throughout ‘Click Clack Boom’, which begins with some almost synthwave-style sounds, before diving immediately back into the heavy, filthy bass. This track isn’t the most interesting in terms of independent listening, although I can tell it will be a dancefloor killer. Still not letting up in terms of energy, ‘City of Sin’ – the title track – brings some lightning-fast rapping from Maria Laveau, as well as some singing in the chorus, although strangely I actually find the verses catchier than the chorus.
At this point, the album has placed three of its heaviest tracks right at the very start, and I’m really craving something with a bit more emphasis on the ‘big band’ side of things; luckily, this now comes with ‘Outlaws’, a jazzier number which is much more to my liking. This track goes through several sections, each just as catchy and enjoyable as the last, and the big band really shine through, fusing effortlessly with the electronic sounds. In terms of danceability, ‘Outlaws’ will definitely get people moving. The next track, ‘Fever’, then provides a bit of respite from the chaos of the album thus far; beginning with the sounds of gypsy jazz, which sets the tone for the whole song, ‘Fever’ is comparatively laidback, and features a brilliant bassline showing that sometimes less is more. Towards the end, there’s a slightly cheesy key change, but honestly, this is part of the fun, and doesn’t detract from the song at all.
Even more laidback is ‘Tommy & Loretta’, featuring a wistful piano introducing a dark, partly spoken-word track, reminiscent of the poetry performed by the likes of Kate Tempest. This track is produced alongside Odjbox, who brings his own distinctive flavour, instantly recognisable once the beat kicks in, and features a lovely chorus – the best demonstration of Maria Laveau’s singing ability. ‘Fall From Grace’ begins with a baritone sax – capable of making everything sound so much jazzier, and also reminding me a bit of Too Many Zooz, who certainly sound like they could have had an influence on this one. In this track we’re slowly building back to the massive basslines found at the start of the album, although the brass sections are actually more interesting; whilst there are some huge drops throughout, I’m much keener on the parts that follow several bars after these drops. Following this is ‘The Arrest’, probably one of the strongest tracks on the album. It starts off almost cinematically, you can imagine this accompanying the score of a film, and as the piece progresses, there is some fantastic interplay between the two MCs. I especially like the refrain of “coming for you”, which makes me feel like I’m listening to something from a musical – tying in with the idea of this being a concept album.
The baritone sax returns for ‘It’s Alright’, also featuring more of the heavy basslines, which – not being as in-your-face as the rest of the album – actually work incredibly well here, and are the best example of these types of basslines throughout the album. Some nice and jazzy breakdowns in the middle do a good job of placing you into the scenario of the narrative again. Next up is a bit of a wildcard: ‘Fiança’ is entirely based around the Latin sounds of South America, and provides an example of what Dutty Moonshine does best – exploring and incorporating other styles, which this track demonstrates brilliantly. Guest vocalist Chininha provides another powerful female voice, and throughout I feel like I’m in a carnival atmosphere, and just want to dance. Towards the end, the samba influences only increase, and there’s some of the more contemporary sounds of soca in the final breakdown too. Closing the album is ‘Locked Up’, which unsurprisingly features some more strong rave influences, although not quite as heavy as I was expecting. Continuing on from the last track, there is actually still some samba influence, particularly in the percussion and woodwinds, which provides some contrast to the more industrial and glitchy sounds.
This album differs from Most Wanted in that – where with that album, the energy increased up until the mayhem of the final, title-track ‘Most Wanted’ – City of Sin actually seems to get slightly more mellow as it goes on. In that sense, the pacing of this album could be described as a little off – hitting you with everything at the start, and then leaving the album to gradually decline in its intensity. Although that’s perhaps an unfair criticism, as it’s not even remotely anticlimactic; in fact, the songs get better as the album progresses. There are some real gems here, and the likes of ‘Outlaws’, ‘Fever’, and ‘It’s Alright’ – amongst others – will surely become well-known anthems in this scene. City of Sin will be a welcome addition to any fan’s collection, and in terms of the act’s reputation, continues to validate the Dutty Moonshine Big Band as one of the most adventurous acts within the scene, and a genuine force to be reckoned with.
Written by Chris Swinglis Date: 2020-02-11