Review of Alternative Light Source Album by Leftfield

Few artists in the electronic cannon will release a record with the gravitas of 'Leftism', Leftfield's 1995 debut. Arriving in the confused but angry wake of Castlemorton and the man's crackdown on repetitive beats, Neil Barnes and Paul Daley assembled a collection which, along with their contemporaries The Chemical Brothers on Exit Planet Dust, galvanised crusties, goths and ravers and ushered in the era of dance music as a main stage headlining phenomenon.

Leftfield Alternative Light Source Album

'Leftism' largely re-wrote the rules, shifted the spectrum of influence from Detroit to the Caribbean and foresaw the rise to popularity of dubstep, but is still most widely remembered for John Lydon's snark on 'Open Up', a song which remarkably sounded liked PiL on, well, pills. Its success wasn't, predictably, without casualties. The long creative shadow it cast smothered its successor, 'Rhythm and Stealth', and then ultimately the partnership itself, Daley leaving in 2002 to focus on a stop-start DJ and solo career. Barnes resurrected the moniker in 2010 but now forms Leftfield's focal point, clustering a host of performers around himself for live performances. Having spoken about his desire to deliver a third album publically for several years, 'Alternative Light Source' arrives two decades after the album which changed so much, from minds to bank balances.

It goes without saying that such a powerful legacy would crush many an artist's sense of perspective. Thankfully, Barnes is wise to majorly reinventing either himself or the Leftfield template, instead retaining some aspects he co-invented and have come to be merely part of a producer's furniture, such as relying on guest vocalists to add character and idiosyncracy to their work. Occasionally, this idea seems a little pointless, such as when he smothers the contribution of TV On The Radio's Tunde Abedimpe in effects on opener 'Bad Radio', but Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson brings his provincial scat amiably to the bass blasts of 'Head And Shoulders' and Channy Leaneagh of Policia diva-wails impressively through the steepling techno of 'Biloaction'.

Without wanting to dwell completely in the past, one of 'Leftism''s most fascinating qualities was its refusal to take prisoners, or compunction to do anything other than drop layer upon layer of atmosphere on the listener. It's a level of menace, however, that 'Alternative Light Source' never quite manages to reach.

Equally, anyone hoping to tread obvious ley lines to the past will have to patient; only on 'Shaker Obsession' with its thudding low-end, stop-start tempo and sinuous programming is it possible to make a definitive comparison. Elsewhere, the chosen templates are more ambitious, from the kinky, dominatrix led perv-core of 'Little Fish''s Hacker-esque synthesis to the poacher turned gamekeeper dubstep wobble of 'Storm's End'. Both are tokens of a mind open enough to the world outside, but perhaps without 100% conviction: on closer 'Levitate For You', however, Barnes utterly nails The Weeknd's tortured R&B in all its alienated, vulnerable glory. Almost the first moment of the entire exercise in which humanity spills into the forefront, the risk in undertaking it adds to the sense of euphoria when it's pulled off, a step out of character that signposts what might be.     

In the end, it's probably unfair to consider Leftfield 2015 in the context of a medium now dominated by their fourth or fifth generation scions such as Major Lazer, performers who're at their most comfortable switching from niche to mass signatures at a stroke, hopping from genre to genre within a single phrase. Barnes has done a more than competent job of re-animating the heavily accented mantras of the past, but whilst 'Alternative Light Source' is consistently well executed, it's rarely compelling.


Andy Peterson

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