“Lords, ladies, and lowlifes: welcome to the world of Basement Jaxx,” says the electro-chorus in the Intro track. As if they need an introduction.
The latest full album from South London house duo Basement Jaxx still steers clear of the mainstream and features far more newcomers than big names (the biggest being rapper Mykki Blanco). This year marks the 20th anniversary of Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe‘s first release, and Junto is the latest 52-minute development of their fascinating evolution. But while it showcases a trademark collection of genre-marriages, it’s not as daring as they’ve been before.
“Power to the People” opens with a harp and ends in tapered-off chants and drums, with a steady beat backing it all the way. “We Are Not Alone” is an easy, finger-snapping feel-good march, sprinkled with effects that sound like trumpets playing underwater. And “Unicorn” is the straightforward dance-worthy groove, a linear, clean-cut, perfect addition to a staple club music house playlist. All three are comfortable and upbeat – none are particularly ambitious.
“Never Say Never” is the standout here. It’s not ecstatic, but where it doesn’t thrill, it innovates. The pledge-titled groove has the chord progression of a Gavin DeGraw single, but it’s far glossier and even catchier than the likes of “Not Over You.” It approaches pop, but doesn’t go beyond flirting with it.
With talk of “taking you home” and having “some fun all night long,” “Summer Dem” is the token disco experiment for this album. Even with the shrug-worthy lyrics (a thing Basement Jaxx doesn’t mind doing almost all the time), the voice that sings to the slinky neon tune carries a surprisingly thick Scottish accent – and it works. But neighboring track “What’s the News,” even under the screw-the-lyrics rule, needed something else to make it stand out. “You came to party, I came to party, so what’s the news?” and the repeated command to “Sweat!” has been heard before, and Basement Jaxx doesn’t waste their magic saving it from mediocrity.
But “Buffalo” is a little baffling. We’re into the genre meltdown they do so well, but is this a hip-hop rap rhythm or the sequel to Katy Perry‘s “ET?” It doesn’t try to do both at the same time, but instead oscillates weirdly between the two. Even with Mykki Blanco bringing in undeniable metro multi-talent, the track felt stunted by the repeated lyrics, and its short runtime (2:27) left off with the feeling that this dance-rap relationship never got off the ground. “Rock This Road” didn’t take off either, and while it brings us back to the great tribal rhythms reminiscent of 2009’s “Raindrops,” it’s no where near as exhilarating, and it ends with a cop-out fade.
Easy guitar and stomp-clap electro come back together in “Something About You,” which echoes 2009 single “My Turn.” Again, it’s not as good as it’s predecessor, but the throwback to old Basement Jaxx is a welcome one. “Mermaid of Salinas” is a rumba rumble that at first seems to be on this album for variety’s sake. But give it a chance – the energy is great, and the hollering, stomping, and Spanish guitars make for something fun and new, though it’s hard to determine what to do with all six minutes of the latent track. “Love is at Your Side” closes out the album, a melodic, easy tune that sounds like it was made solely to run during the credits of a romantic comedy. As with most of the tracks before it, we’re left to wonder: it’s not miserable music by a long shot, but is this really Basement Jaxx?
While Junto could’ve done more, it didn’t need to. Basement Jaxx long since proved themselves in proceeding albums, and this one aims to crowd-placate rather than please. Experimentation doesn’t reach far enough forward, and reminiscence doesn’t go far enough back. But while it’s not brilliant, it’s bright, and it’s still the dance music for crowds of all kinds: lords, ladies, lowlifes, etc.