We're New Here
|We're New Here|
|Remix album by Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx|
|Released||February 21, 2011|
|Label||Young Turks, XL|
|Producer||Malcolm Cecil, Jamie xx, Richard Russell, Gil Scott-Heron|
|Gil Scott-Heron chronology|
|Jamie xx chronology|
|Singles from We're New Here|
We're New Here is a remix album by American recording artist Gil Scott-Heron and English music producer Jamie "xx" Smith, released on February 21, 2011, by Young Turks and XL Recordings. A longtime fan of Scott-Heron, Smith was approached by XL label head Richard Russell to remix Scott-Heron's 2010 studio album I'm New Here. He worked on the album while touring with his band The xx in 2010 and occasionally communicated with Scott-Heron through letters for his approval to rework certain material.
Incorporating dubstep and UK garage styles, Smith applied electronic music techniques in his production to remix Scott-Heron's vocals from the original album over his own instrumentals. Although it is structured similarly, We're New Here eschews the original album's stark style and lo-fi production for bass-driven, musically-varied production and sonical illumination of Scott-Heron's vocals. It has been noted by music writers for recontextualizing Scott-Heron's narratives in Smith's own musical influences and tastes.
Although it did not chart in the United States, the album debuted at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart, on which it spent two weeks. It was promoted with a multi-format release, including a limited edition box set, and the release of two singles, "NY Is Killing Me" and "I'll Take Care of U". Upon its release, We're New Here received universal acclaim from music critics, who praised Scott-Heron's vocal material, Smith's production, and his treatment of the source material.
Following a period of personal and legal troubles with drug addiction, Gil Scott-Heron recorded and released his first album of original material in sixteen years, I'm New Here (2010), with the assistance of XL Recordings-label head Richard Russell. Produced by Russell, the album served as a departure from Scott-Heron's earlier work, both musically and thematically, eschewing its soul, jazz, and funk styles and social commentary for more personal, reflective lyrics with ruminations on love, loss, and identity, set to contemporary electronic music. It was well received by fans and music critics, who viewed it as a comeback for Scott-Heron.
Russell, a fan of English indie pop band The xx, proposed the idea of remixing I'm New Here to the band's percussionist and producer Jamie Smith, known professionally as Jamie xx. Russell was introduced to their music after hearing Smith's remix of Florence and the Machine's "You Got the Love". He told Smith that his production work on I'm New Here was heavily influenced by The xx's debut album xx (2009), which was recorded at the XL label's studio. Their debut album showcased Smith's bassy, beat-oriented and minimalist production and had garnered the band critical acclaim, including the 2010 Mercury Prize. Following its success, Smith had occupied himself with solo production work, remixing other artists, and DJing in clubs in the United Kingdom and Europe.
Smith, a longtime fan of Scott-Heron's work, was introduced by his parents to Scott-Heron's music as a youth. Russell later said of his decision to enlist Smith, "We didn't want lots of remixes by different people. That can be confusing. Gil was open to Jamie re-interpreting the whole album". According to Smith, he himself had no point of reference in remixing another artist's album, and later said of taking on the project, "It was a bit nerve-wracking because this is the first time I've ever done an album on my own. But I was really just eager to get at and I knew exactly what I wanted to do".
Although Scott-Heron received top-billing for the release, Smith worked solely on the remix project. For We're New Here, Smith remixed 13 of the original album's 15 songs, including its "interlude" cuts, mixing Scott-Heron's vocal tracks from the original recording sessions over his own instrumentals, rather than the original music. Many of the remixes were created by Smith on his laptop, while on tour with The xx. In a March 2010 interview, he said that the label "gave me the parts and let me do whatever I want, so I've been doing it on my laptop on tour. [I'm] only using [Gil's] vocals, I'm not using any of the original music from it, which is very freeing". On his intentions for the album's music, Smith explained in an interview for The Irish Times, "I wanted it to sound like everything I had been listening to in London. I wanted it to sound like something you’d hear on pirate radio. You hear so many different genres, and it’s all so convoluted and mixed-up, but it makes sense when you turn on the station". In addition to vocal tracks from I'm New Here, Smith mixed vocals from Scott-Heron's 1970s work. In an interview for Pitchfork Media, Smith explained his incorporation of these vocals and its meaning to the work as a whole, stating:
I wanted to show the difference between him then and now as well as the difference between my taste then and now. The songs that use his voice from older records are influenced by the stuff I liked 10 or 15 years ago, mostly sample-based productions like RJD2. And I wanted the album to explain itself, like a DJ set. I wanted to represent Gil well, but also use his voice as my own.
While given permission by XL Recordings to remix I'm New Here's content, Smith wrote longhand letters to Scott-Heron to obtain his approval to rework the other vocal material. Smith explained, "Originally, I sent him the album and there were a couple of tracks he wasn't sure about. I had to write to him—he does handwritten letters, not e-mail—and explain why I wanted to use some of his older vocal tracks on the album. [...] So after I wrote him the letter, he said I was free to do whatever because he knew what I was doing". Scott-Heron is credited as a producer for the album, along with Russell and Malcolm Cecil, a producer and engineer on Scott-Heron's past work. The original vocals were produced and engineered at Clinton Studios and Looking Glass Studios in New York, and additional recording and mixing of the album took place at XL Studios in London.
Similar to I'm New Here, the album features 13 songs that include four interludes and is rhythmically stressed in sound. However, it contrasts the original album's stark style and lo-fi production with bass-driven, musically-varied production and sonical illumination of Scott-Heron's vocals. We're New Here is considered a post-dubstep work. In remixing the album, Smith incorporated dubstep tones, dance-influenced tempos, pitch-shifted and sped-up samples, wobble, sub-bass, and drum 'n' bass beats into the music. We're New Here also contains elements of trance, house, techno, hip hop breakbeats, and electro music. Dan Hancox of The National noted in its sound "a melange of creaking bass hums, cascading UK garage drums and washes of electronic noise".
According to Thom Jurek of Allmusic, "Richard Russell's production on I'm New Here kept Scott-Heron's voice front and center; Smith displaces it often, all but covering it with effects, beats, and pitched vocals in styles that cross the electronic music gamut". Tim Noakes of Dazed & Confused describes the album as "[his] love letter to sample culture and the history of the UK electronic underground. Against Smith’s booming backdrop of sub bass breakdowns, obscure samples and two-step rhythms, Scott-Heron’s scarred poetic missives take on a more sinister edge". Ian Maleney of Slate comments on the album's music, "The beats and bass are classic dub [...] and the use of stretched and pitched vocal samples cement the albums place in the ever-developing dubstep cannon". Music critic Max Feldman notes "smothering" bass lines and "robust" beats, and writes that the album performs a "balancing act between the avant-garde end of the dubstep fallout" and "dance-ability".
The album's title track incorporates a sped-up sample of Gloria Gaynor's "Casanova Brown", with an emphasis on the line "I was lonely and naïve" from the sample, and "Running" has Scott-Heron's spoken word vocals scattered and repeated. "Ur Soul and Mine" samples the vocals from Rui da Silva's house classic "Touch Me", distorting the vocals in the song's verse, but preserving its chorus part. The densely-produced "Home" features clattering snares, a heavily-reverbed keyboard sample, drum loop, and a vocal sample of Scott-Heron singing the line "home is where the hatred is...", taken from the song of the same name from his 1971 album Pieces of a Man. BBC Online's Ele Beattie writes of Smith's sampling and its meaning to the work as a whole, "Smith's use of sampling tunes the listener in and out of his musical predecessors. He rewires a personal musical canon into something utterly contemporary [...] Whilst I'm New Here marked an introspective turn from Scott-Heron, this set offers a multi-layered retrospective of the music which bore and surrounds Jamie xx". Music essayist Robert Christgau characterizes Scott-Heron's original narratives as those of "a drug fiend of considerable perversity and tremendous intelligence who's gonna be dead soon", and comments that Smith "hears in [Scott-Heron's] last testament an irreversible disintegration that he translates into heavily sampled minimalist electro marked indelibly by Scott-Heron's weariness, arrogance, and wit."
Release and promotion
The album was released by Young Turks and XL Recordings on February 21, 2011, in the United Kingdom, and on February 22, 2011, in the United States. It was released on multiple formats, including CD, vinyl LP, vinyl box set, and digital download. Its limited edition box set release was made available via the album's official website and included the LP on pink heavyweight vinyl, an LP of instrumentals on green heavyweight vinyl, CDs of both the standard and instrumental album, and two photographic prints. Prior to its release, We're New Here had been made available for streaming via The Guardian website on February 14.
The album's first single, "NY Is Killing Me", was released digitally on November 30, 2010, and on January 10, 2011, as a limited edition one-sided 12-inch single. Sean Michaels of The Guardian wrote of the song, "Ghostly samples rise around Scott-Heron's vocals, combining the poet's inner-city canvas with Smith's dubstep roots. It's as good as anything the DJ has produced". The second single "I'll Take Care of U" was released on January 6, 2011. It features euphoric, house-inspired piano hooks and echoing guitar riffs. A music video for the single was directed by photographer Jamie-James Medina and AG Rojas, and it was released on March 4, 2011. Set in New York City, the video's plot follows a female boxer as she takes care of her child and trains for a fight.
The album debuted at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart in the week ending March 5, 2011. It also entered at number four on the UK Indie Chart and at number 18 on the Digital Chart. The album dropped to number 60 on the UK Albums Chart in its second week, and fell off the chart in its third week of release. We're New Here did not chart in the United States. In Belgium, the album debuted at number 44 and subsequently spent five weeks on the Ultratop 50 Albums chart.
|The A.V. Club||A|
We're New Here received universal acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 83, based on 28 reviews. Allmusic editor Thom Jurek called it "a mercurial collaboration ... full of nods to other club styles and eras" and praised Smith's "expansive direction", stating "He accomplishes a difficult task in successfully (re)presenting Scott-Heron's music — integrity intact — in the present tense to a fickle yet discerning groove-centric culture without kitsch or excess". Charlotte Richardson Andrews of The Guardian called the album a "perceptive reworking" and stated "Scott's old-soul narratives are reborn through Smith's atmospheric beats". Chris Martins of The A.V. Club praised "the everlasting gravity of [Scott-Heron]’s words and wisdom", writing that "his pained, bluesy musings are as universally human as they are perennially pertinent ... Scott-Heron talks, sings, hums, and pontificates, sometimes over the beat and sometimes from deep within the snowdrift".
Pitchfork Media's Sean Fennessey noted Smith's "fearlessness over reverence" in his production and wrote that his "finicky, hard-charging production trumps Scott-Heron's voice, overpowering it with ideas, if not focus". Matthew Bennett of Clash stated, "The old timer’s voice sounds great over any sound or style borne from the youngster’s sampler". Ben Ratliff of The New York Times lauded Smith for "putting Mr. Scott-Heron’s worn voice over constantly changing variations on club music", and found the album to be an improvement over "the bummed-out original", adding that "To its great credit it’s high and low and all over the place. The dislocation works: the record has patience and breadth and almost zero pretension". Max Feldman of PopMatters commented that "Ultimately, We’re New Here succeeds because it manages to seamlessly reconcile the different traditions from which it draws—not just Gil Scott Heron’s uttering utterances, but UK Garage, the fibrous gloss of Seventeen Seconds-era The Cure, and R&B futurism".
In a mixed review, The Observer's Kitty Empire wrote that Smith "tear[s] up Russell's soundbed entirely and showcase[s] his own emerging versatility", but stated, "While Smith's productions are consistently excellent, they aren't really there to augment Scott-Heron's words". Andy Gill of The Independent commented that the remixing techniques "only occasionally work in its favour". Louise Brailey of NME wrote that Smith "coaxes fresh narratives from the source material" and that it "isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it showcases a producer so in love with the music of now that he not only preserves the power of his source material, but makes it more relevant". Garry Mulholland of Uncut found it "closest in tempo and atmosphere to dubstep" and commended Smith's "opportunity to explore different styles of dance music ... woven into what feels like a 36-minute suite". August Brown of the Los Angeles Times felt that "the duo lends each other gravitas and levity on this very curious but ultimately immersive LP". MSN Music's Robert Christgau called the album "a young man's bad dream about mortality, and of interest as such" and wrote of the source material's importance to Smith's remix, "the snatches of Scott-Heron's voice, cracked for sure but deeper than night nonetheless, delivers it from callow generalization and foregone conclusion."
|1.||"I'm New Here"||Bill Callahan, Jimmy Roach, Jamie Smith||3:26|
|2.||"Home"||Gil Scott-Heron, Smith||3:11|
|3.||"I've Been Me (Interlude)"||Scott-Heron||0:27|
|5.||"My Cloud"||Scott-Heron, Smith||4:27|
|6.||"Certain Things (Interlude)"||Scott-Heron, Giuliano Sorgini||0:09|
|7.||"The Crutch"||Bob Halley, Ben Raleigh, Scott-Heron, Smith||3:09|
|8.||"Ur Soul and Mine"||Rui da Silva, Cassandra Fox, Scott-Heron, Smith||4:17|
|9.||"Parents (Interlude)"||Bernard Purdie, Scott-Heron||0:28|
|10.||"Piano Player"||Scott-Heron, Smith||1:16|
|11.||"NY Is Killing Me"||Scott-Heron, Smith||5:43|
|12.||"Jazz (Interlude)"||Scott-Heron, Paul Simon, Smith||0:49|
|13.||"I'll Take Care of U"||Brook Benton, Smith||4:42|
- Sample credits
- "I'm New Here" contains a sample of the recording "Casanova Brown" as performed by Gloria Gaynor.
- "I've Been Me (Interlude)" contains a sample of "Boxcar Hobo" by Sassafrass.
- "Certain Things (Interlude)" contains a sample of the recording "Slaves" as performed by Giuliano Sorgini.
- "The Crutch" contains excerpts from "That's How Heartaches Are Made" as performed by Baby Washington.
- "Ur Soul and Mine" contains a sample of "Touch Me" by Rui da Silva.
- "Parents (Interlude)" contains a sample of "Hap'nin'", written by Bernard Purdie.
- "Jazz (Interlude)" contains a sample of the recording "Sixty-Eight Ways".
Credits for We're New Here adapted from liner notes.
- Malcolm Cecil – engineer, producer, synthesizer programming
- Romy Madley Croft – guitar
- Jamie xx – additional production, design, musician, remixing
- Royce Jeffries – assistant
- Phil Lee – design
- Rodaidh McDonald – engineer, mixing
- Ichiho Nishiki – engineer, mixing
- Mandy Parnell – mastering
- Mischa Richter – photography
- Richard Russell – vocal producer
- Gil Scott-Heron – vocal producer, vocals
- Lawson White – engineer, mixing
|Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)||44|
|UK Albums Chart||33|
|UK Indie Albums||4|
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