Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad: Scalper Feat. Claire Duncan ‘Lullaby’

Scalper

Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad is a column which sees a panel of writers for The Corner review a range of local singles and grade them out of 10. Check out the song below, read through their opinions and let us know in the comments section your own thoughts and what you’d like to see reviewed next time around.

[Bandcamp]

[Grade: 4.6]

Miles Sutton: Scalper has something to say and he seems to be doing so honestly. His delivery doesn’t sound forced, accent intact and his flow isn’t awkward. More importantly, he seems to be aware that as a lyrics dude his music relies on saying a lot but that if he wants urgency, brevity is important too. I really can’t stand Claire Duncan here – she isn’t singing badly but it’s just so damn annoying. The song doesn’t need her. Does she even know what she’s singing about? [5]

Sean Quay: I didn’t expect such a pretty piece of music from ex-Fun-Da-Mental Scalper. The simple, paired-back Walker Brothers-esque loop is both moody and teasing: hinting at a change or shift that is always just out of reach. This device gives ‘Lullaby’ a tense and anxious atmosphere that is complimented by the brooding and cryptic vocal delivery. Clearly an introspective track and while there is raw emotion, it is also easy to feel alienated by the performance: you are welcomed as an observer but not invited to participate. Similarly, this song feels fragmentary – like it could benefit another section to really reach its full potential. Or maybe I shouldn’t over-think it. [6]

Dan Taipua: I quite like Scalper, he’s a weird guy; or rather, he’s a weird presence in the NZ music scene. I sometimes help Hussein trawl through releases for GSG and it gets a bit samey after a while, but ‘Lullaby’ really pops. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, it’s actually quite similar to the ‘Eighties in Harlem’ track that came up last year but I think it’s a lot stronger – there’s a maturity in the production and overall treatment that strengthens its really simple structure. It’s also my favourite Claire Duncan vocal ever. Be different, mature and simple and get an [8]

Miriama Aoake: I’m pissed I didn’t catch Scalper while I was in Auckland – dude has such a presence and when he performs he resembles that of a man possessed, excuse the religious preconceptions. This is indubitably haunting, the disparity between Duncan’s and Shafi’s voices subconsciously highlights both their temperament and a shared characteristic of eeriness. I feel as though this would have been a pertinent title track to 17th century gothicism. [8]

Hayden Currie: Not a fan of this at all. The male vocals remind me of Tricky, in a bad way. The inane ‘dark’, ‘evil’ lyrics juxtaposed with ‘light’, ‘innocent’ female vocals, dubbed effects and guitar strum all combine to annoy me. It seems contrived and incohesive. Kinda has a depressing vibe too, but not in a way that provokes me to action, just to turn it off. [2]

Adam Burns: Brand New You’re Retro? Yep so Scalper is Tricky Kid and Dear Times Waste’s Claire Duncan is Martina Topley-Bird, right? [5]

Maddie Collier: At first I thought that ‘Lullaby’ was a parody song à la ‘Tribute’ because the vocals have the exact same grandiose, wanky tone. It’s not, though. Actually, who knows, because these are the Bandcamp tags: 2013, hip hop, hip hop/rap, lullaby, lyricism, nz, new music, scalper, uk, god, devil, good and evil, Auckland. If this is hip hop then anything is; “lyricism” is a hilariously masturbatory way to tag your own music; and tags like “god’ and “devil” mean that you pretty much start at zero with me and fight your way up from there.

I fully admit that I’d never heard of this guy until now, but I did some research and found out that Scalper is a doom merchant expat Londonerer in his 40s who lives at Bethells and says things like this in interviews: “that’s the moment I woke up to conscious music“. So yeah, turns out ‘Lullaby’ is serious. DEADLY SERIOUS. It’s also terrible, by the way, like poke-your-own-eye-out bad. His music is the high water mark in terms of how nauseating “conscious” music can get. Shit like this is the reason A$AP Rocky has to qualify smart stuff he says with caveats like “don’t view me as no conscious cat, this ain’t no conscious rap / fuck the conscious crap, my mac’ll push your conscience back“.

I gave Scalper’s most recent album, Butchers Bakers, a listen out of fairness (that’s as far back as I’ll go, because life is short, etc.). It’s bleak and dreary and sanctimonious, and also obscenely, cripplingly uncool: the aural equivalent of actually stopping and listening to one of those doomsayers on Queen St ranting on about how the end of the world is nigh. [ONE]

(PS. If you like listening to miserable, introspective hip hop, and you want some that’s good and actually sounds like hip hop, cop Has-Lo’s In Case I Don’t Make It mixtape.)

Luke Jacobs: This song is good but it felt like it was missing something. The final refrain that we hear doesn’t sound so much menacing but a little clinical and I think that expresses what I thought was missing.

The studio feels like this was the primary instrument made to craft this song and that imparts a kind of claustrophobia that I found hard to like. It reminded me a lot of Tricky but without the scorching loops and beats that gave that an organic feel. It sounds expensive, but not really alive.

For a track that is under 3 minutes it also feels a little under-developed and there are plenty of moments where it could have stuck around a bit longer and we could have heard a bit more from Claire Duncan. Speaking of Duncan, her voice is amazing but the reverb on it makes it wash out a little too much. There are lots of nice ideas but as a song it feels like it’s just not there yet. [6]

Stephen Clover: Not sure Bristol would be too happy about this one either. Truly chilling, nightmarish stuff though: re-re-animated zombie gangsters, meta-[con]textual vocal loops and a Massive Attack revival. Brrrrrrrrr. [2]

Taylor Groves: Aw shit, I really like Claire Duncan, but stuff like this bums me out a bit. The song’s not that bad, it actually kinda sounds good – Duncan’s parts have nice moments, plus the percussion here is neat. I just don’t want to listen to it though. Bad collaborations are definiely a thing, and often it is when both collaborators are better separately, for whatever reason. Like Metallica and Lou Reed. Separately, it’s easy to know what to like about either artist, but together it can be confusing and conflicting. Instead of opening different audiences to both artists, it ends up lame, alienating, and forgettable. [2]

Andrew B. White: OK, this song is scary. I’m not really a fan of scary music, especially on headphones. At night. In the dark. Especially when Christopher Dorner is still on the run.

Mr. Scalper sounds almost exactly like Tricky here in vocal style and delivery. I just hope he isn’t one of those artists who denies sounding exactly like someone else when they ahhh, actually do. In fact this would make a good song to submit for Mr. Tricky for his next album if he’s a bit short.

The instrumental backing is nicely recorded and tasteful and although the Bandcamp tags include ‘hip hop’ luckily this is not some kind of bad rap song with paint-by-numbers ingredients.

Claire Duncan’s sweet vocals offset the dark vibe but only a little as her BVs are pitched in a demonic way throughout the track.

Murder Ballads but with Tricky instead of Nick Cave.

I won’t listen to it again but I’m sure Mr Scalper will get a few fans on the b-Net, probably at night. In the dark. [6]

10 Comments

  1. Maddie Collier – the first rule of musical criticism is an open mind. All your criticisms appear to be infected by cynicism. Perhaps its time to make music rather than writing about it – just a thought?

    • Luke Jacobs says:

      I disagree. What you have said is almost akin to “Well you couldn’t do any better?” I think that making music gives you a nice insight into the creative process. But I think she sounded like she went into it with an open mind she listened to his album, I only listened to the single and another one and I was done.

  2. Maurice says:

    I can’t take her seriously when she gives a vote of 1. Thats an insult not a critical commentary.

    • But she has the right a give it a one. Or a 10. I would think that someone giving something one out of ten is very serious indeed. Why is it an insult? It’s a choice.
      Otherwise would the scale would start at five and end at ten because anything less is an ‘insult’?
      Reviewers are just a frustrated bunch of jerks anyway.

      • Maurice says:

        I think a 1-5 scale is more appropriate and has the chance for greater accuracy for criticism rather than protest.

    • Maddie says:

      Maurice, I genuinely think this is worth a 1. I get no pleasure in awarding really low scores, but I’m going to be honest in my grading. I thought about this seriously, I gave the music a fair chance, I hated it, and I gave reasons. An insult would be saying “this suuuuuuucks [1]“, which I only do for Six60 songs.

  3. Maurice says:

    I used to think Michael McClelland was a bit of a dipstick and a bit too fond of his beer goggles. Most of what he wrote was totally incoherent. But I have to say his latest feature is really very good and there really is hope for all at The Corner!

  4. Maurice says:

    I said feature not review. I thought you had left your beer goggles behind.

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