Revisiting Malachai’s 2010 debut LP, Ugly Side Of Love, it’s a wonder this Bristolian duo was ever signed to a major label (Island, briefly). That album was a fascinating mess—a blistering hodgepodge of vintage British prog and psych that swung wildly from deep funk grooves to sunshine pop to proto-metal growls. But while Scott and Gee (no last names given) have dubbed their sophomore effort Return To The Ugly Side, their latest treads new ground, taming that gnarled cut-and-paste experimental rock with a hefty spackling of Massive Attack-styled, chilled-out electronica. These songs are their most focused and enjoyable yet, and proof that while Malachai can travel anywhere it wants stylistically, you can’t take the Bristol out of the band.
In a way, it’s as if The Beta Band was reborn with straight faces and a love for Portishead. Tracks like “Anne” and “(My) Ambulance” are upbeat and eclectic—complete with turntable breaks, soupy Sgt. Pepper’s vocals, and all kinds of keyboards—but Malachai avoids goofiness even at its most frenetic. Meanwhile, the mellow and the moody prevail. “Rainbows” features a duet from Gee and guest singer Katy Wainwright that recalls the late-’60s family band The Free Design. The striking “The Don’t Just” re-imagines The Righteous Brothers as produced by jazz-funk great David Axelrod. It’s still tough to imagine this pair on a major—they’re too hard to classify, too genreless, too unconventionally attractive. But for many, Malachai’s “ugly” is the source of the band’s charm.