Music News

Roots Manuva

If you haven't already gotten onboard with Roots Manuva, the original savior of U.K. hip-hop, now's your best chance. Predating the Streets, Dizzee, and Merry Ol's latest export, the foul-mouthed firecracker known as Lady Sovereign, Roots has been on a steady roll since last year's Awfully Deep. That album, his fourth, was hailed by critics and fans as his best; Alternately Deep contains 12 songs originally slated for Awfully that didn't make it and ended up here instead. But rather than a handful of throwaways and remixes, Alternately bounces along on the same rails, comprising a full-fledged album that maintains the dark, ominous, often hilarious momentum of its predecessor. In some ways more fleshed out (the loose, skanky "Double Drat" sizzles with electric organs, a rubber-dub bassline, and a sliver of wiry guitar; "Nobody's Dancing" is almost waltzlike in its singsong melody) and in others more raw (the remix of "Colossal Insight" by grime producer Jammer is all spooky, off-kilter, industrial kick drums), Alternately's production offers a channel-spanning platform for Roots' neurotic, psychotic introspection. Here's a self-described "black George Clooney" who loves hating his life — something about the sonorous quality of his voice makes lines like "They don't know my name, but they know my pain/Cuz I'm the dude in the corner getting steadily 'cained" both sad and slick. Awful, alternate, whatever — Roots Manuva goes deep once again and comes up with another funky treasure.

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Jonathan Zwickel