My first review of the year is for a band I was playing constantly throughout last year, Bastille. There’s something just a little bit different about their sound that distinguishes them from any other modern British rock groups. They aren’t afraid to use electronics to broaden their sonic palate, but at their core they are an adventurous rock band that has some really great writing. Their first full length album Bad Blood broke big in America with their fifth or sixth single, “Pompeii” and they haven’t disappeared since. The album, which has since been repackaged as All This Bad Blood with a full disc of b-sides and cover versions, was my favorite album of 2014 that didn’t actually come out in 2014. In reality many of those songs date back to 2011 and 2012. But something Bastille has done to keep their sound fresh is to work on what they refer to as “mixtape” EPs. The first of these predated Bad Blood, and was called Other People’s Heartache. This consisted of mostly cover versions, and some of the songs made it to All This Bad Blood.
Now we come to VS., the third installment in this EP series. Like volume two, the band worked with several of their favorite artists, many of whom you’ve never heard. But unlike some other artists’ stopgap EPs, none of this is rehash material or remixes. These are all fresh sounds as the band forges their next step. After a mood-setting intro “Fall Into Your Arms”, the EP kicks off with “Bite Down”, a buoyant track shared with the all-sister group Haim. It has a slight dub reggae vibe to it and is a quite joyful song about the beginning of falling in love. “bad_news” follows, which was a recent b-side. This one is a more melancholy track with lyrics like “It’s true it kicks you in the teeth when you least expect it”. The collaboration on this track is with newcomer vocalist MNEK (Pronounced Em-en-ee-kay – real name Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike – that’s a mouthful!). This one would be right at home on Bad Blood.
Next up is “The Driver”, the sole song without a collaboration. This is a slower moody track that was created for a rescored version of the Ryan Gosling movie Drive. I can totally see this being a perfect movie song with its big filmic sound to the production. The following song “Axe To Grind” collaborates with two artists. First, Tyde is a duo that includes Kyle Simmons, who plays bass and keyboards for Bastille. He has a side project called Tyde that does remix work and has some of their own work up on Soundcloud. The other collaborator is Rationale, a really interesting electronic artist that has an EP and a few tracks up on Spotify. The mix of styles makes for quite a good track. Then we get to the new single “Torn Apart”, a collaboration with dance music artist GRADES. Here we get the moodiness of Bastille meeting upbeat EDM. And they get the balance of the elements right here, which makes for one of my favorite tracks. The video (below) is not to be missed either, and is another in a long line of Bastille videos that you can’t watch just once because of its “wait..what??” factor. There’s also a “Torn Apart Pt. II” here, which adds a hip-hop verse from Minneapolis artist Lizzo. Lizzo is the primary female rapper on the track “BOYTROUBLE” on Prince & 3rdeyegirl’s new PLECTRUMELECTRUM album. She does a good job here of staying in line with the song and not forcing some kind of bad remix vibe that happens so often.
“Weapons” is track that strays the furthest from what we’re used to by Bastille. It has a heavy electronic reggae beat by artist F.U.G.Z, rapping by Angel Haze, who is rather good here, and a verse by the newcomer band Braque. Bastille’s frontman Dan Smith just sings the chorus here. But the then the final track “Remains” is quite the song to end with. Dan trades off verses with blues musician Rag’n’Bone Man (who I definitely need to check out more by – what I’ve heard is impressive), and vocalist Skin from the band Skunk Anansie. Unfortunately Skunk Anansie never really took off here in the states, but Skin is an incredible vocalist and I’ve always thought her stage presence is just amazing. The song starts out with an almost Leonard Cohen starkness, and by Skin’s verse builds into a big orchestral finish with all three singing together.
If only more bands put this much thought into an EP that was probably just considered a stopgap project. It’s the sense of adventure here the band shows as artists that are unafraid to try new styles and collaborations that makes me want to continue following this band. Here in the U.S., the EP is only available as a download. But if you are willing to go the extra mile, it can be purchased from the UK as a gatefold CD release. I’m glad I did so, as this EP was worth having on my shelf with All This Bad Blood. I look forward to more exciting things from this band in 2015.
Check out the videos here:
“Torn Apart” (VS GRADES):
“Bite Down” (VS HAIM):
“The Driver” (Radio 1 Rescores Drive Premiere):