Ninjatune are home to a few vocal led projects now, one of the newer ones to join the roster is the Chris James fronted Stateless. The singer-songwriter pulled together the talents of Gerard Roberts for turntable and programming duties (who has released a smattering of 12s and three albums of his own as kidkanevil) as well as John Taylor, James Sturdy and Rod Buchanan-Dunlop for bass, drums, and keys respectively. Their history since forming in 2003 reads like every bands dream - album demo played on Radio 1, signed to Sony, moved to !K7, collaborated with DJ Shadow and toured the world. Not a bad start, and now, working with Bjork/The Prodigy producer Damian Taylor and signed to Ninjatune, here is their follow up album 'Matilda'.
Whilst this album feels like a fusion of many sources, James' vocals are an immediate focal point. First off, sounding high up in the mix, later settling nicely between the surrounding instrumentation of his band mates. Sometimes treated through filters and effects, other times just as it comes, he manages to curl his vocals around the other elements of the music, creating a smooth connection between the two and a tight sound overall. He emphatically sings, "still got miles to go before I sleep" on 'Miles to Go', the heartfelt intention is believeable.
The strength and skill of his voice is heard no clearer though than in track 'I'm on fire' where he acheives Jeff Buckley-esque Hallelujah falsetto. Aided by My Brightest Diamond singer Shara Worden, the duet was apparently recorded in the Brooklyn singer's front room. It is an epic piece, seeing climbing strings rising behind their vocals towards the end of the track.
'Assassinations' is another highlight, with its Eastern European influenced percussion, and dynamic sound accompanying James' brooding warning "you can't stop whatever is round the corner". The drum and keyboard interplay later on in the track is powerful and exciting stuff. These are indeed big beats, and with the keyboard, synth and samples delivering a punchy, soulful sound, its clear that Stateless is much more than just a forum for showcasing James' vocal talent.
Great for fans of label mates 'Fink', 'Eskmo' and 'Cinematic Orchestra' alike, but also for those looking for something a bit different. Stateless' musical journey so far has been infused into a set of strong tracks, with tight compositional and production techniques; riddled with spellbinding, and at times anthemic melodies. There is a dark edge, similar perhaps to Massive Attack's 'Mezzanine' at points, second track 'Ariel' certainly echoes the Bristol band's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan remix 'Mustt Mustt'. Worth mentioning too, is the impressive amount of loud unrestrained bass, of which 'Matilda' has plenty, too many other albums of late have been sadly missing.
'Matilda' is available from Ninjatune on 21st February 2011, pre-order the album here.