Riva Starr – Hand in Hand (Album Review)

Italian DJ and producer Riva Starr’s new album Hand in Hand is in some ways a prototypical example of modern dub / dance with a healthy dose of modern dupstep in its beats.  But it’s the sheer quality of the work within it that sets it apart.  This is one of those dance albums that you’ll find yourself playing at every party you host.

Riva’s been around for a while and his work is well known within the dance scene.  However the dance music scene isn’t what it once was.  Who else remembers the heyday of dance in the nineties when bands like The Chemical Brothers were able to sell out huge venues and Fat Boy Slim seemed to be everywhere.  The days of Big Beat are long behind us but Riva’s music has a healthy, modern tone that should see his new album be a critical success.

Featuring many collaborations with Rssll, the album is peppered with other vocalists like frequent Massive Attack ally Horace Andy, Carmen Casoli and a superb turn by Speech Debelle on the bonus track “Ghosts”.

The tone of the album is largely very positive, slow trippy beats that never quite slink all the way over the line into sinister dub but some of the beats are long, lingering notes that would be comfortable in modern dubstep.

Kill Me gets the album off to a fast start that does recall a big beat feel.  Built around a dark but playful set of lyrics delivered in a deadpan style but Rssll.  This is continued in the slower, more comic Absence.

The purely instrumental Si  E’ Spentoil Sole follows and then things take a faster turn with the big beat song Nobody’s Fool.  A playful, up tempo track that wouldn’t have been out of place fifteen years ago at “Homelands”.

Am I Not Alone? Slows the pace down again before the gloomy, downbeat “Detox Blues” strike with the downer lyrics about “If depression doesn’t get you; the drugs will”.  By this point in the album Rssll’s vocal style is starting to wear a bit thin.

The rich, dub influenced The Care Song takes things up in both tempo and tone.  Bob Andy delivers the lyrics with a happy tone while the chirpy beats are laid down around it.  Things slow down again for the dark but semi-comic “No Mans Land”.

Things remain in a vaguely comic style for the urban influenced tongue in cheek song “We Got This Ting” which, if taken seriously, would be a dull sub hip hop song but comes across with a lot of nous and humour.

The fast paced Hand in Hand has a crunchy, fun beat to it and has a rich, Caribbean sound to it.  Upside Down is a much more typical dub influenced big beat sound and has a fun, fast tempo to it.

The album tracks end with the slow, outro that is strongly dub influenced with “In the Morning”.  Distorted lyrics play out over a slow, sinister beat.

The two guest tracks at the end of the album are the dark but fun “Dublife” and the superb “Ghosts” which is dripping in darkness with a sinister, sweet violin, Massive Attack influenced piano breaks and a superb hip hop line by guest vocalist Speech Debelle.

The album comes across at times like a modern version of the classic Big Beat sound but also has enough modern influences to seem like a product of the era we’re living in.  The album is a lot of fun and has enough character and varying styles to never get boring.  Whilst some of the purely instrumental tracks are a bit “filler”ish, the album itself changes theme and direction enough times to stay fresh.

This is a hip, clever and fun album that few people will expect to hear but many will enjoy listening to.  Get a copy, put it on your speakers over the Summer and see who bobs their head.  They’ll be the cool ones and you can know that they’re on the same page as you.

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