Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28: Urban Species & Imogen Heap, "Blanket"

Artist: Urban Species & Imogen Heap
Song: "Blanket"
Album: Blanket
Year: 1998


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While there are constant cases that leave one wondering how a certain song found its way to international notoriety, there are similarly countless examples of songs that are truly amazing, yet rarely receive the accolades that they deserve.  The latter of these situations can occur due to a number of reasons, but in most cases, with bands on larger labels, it is simply due to the label itself not pushing the song as much as others.  Due to this fact, one must often dig deep into the seemingly endless list of groups to find exceptional songs and true musical art, and this is the case when one looks into the music of Urban Species.  Bringing together jazz, funk, blues, and a number of other styles, and finding a way to blend it all into a hip-hop form, the group had a handful of hits in Europe throughout the 1990's, and they remain one of the most unique groups of that decade.  Yet it was often their collaborations with other artists that yielded the most impressive results, and after a change in lineup in the late 1990's, this reality became far more apparent.  Finding a new balance in their sound, as well as the way in which they work in the superb vocal talents of Imogen Heap, the group managed to push their sound into "ambient" territory, and the resulting song, 1998's "Blanket," stands today as one of the most beautifully blissful tracks ever recorded.

If one only hears "Blanket," it may be difficult to understand the groups' hip-hop roots, as even from the opening notes, the delicate, yet musically full sound that Urban Species put forth makes them sound as if they were long-time veterans of the electronic music scene.  From the soft keyboard progression to the oddly tension-filled cymbal tapping, there are few songs that pull the listener in as quickly as "Blanket."  This sound and mood, largely the creation of producer Mintos, is absolutely perfect, and even when the core section of the song kicks in, though it is slightly more aggressive, the song never loses its smooth, almost hypnotic feel.  It is within the main musical portion of the song that one can easily pick up on Urban Species' love for funk music, as they deploy one of the most subtle, yet unquestionably deep grooves ever recorded  In an era of excessive bass, the group uses "Blanket" to prove that the same results can be achieved with a far more restrained approach.  This groove is highlighted by the keyboard interjections, as well as the way in which they make the percussion almost dance over the rest of the sounds.  As the song continues, the listener is drawn in further and further, and this is where the songs' title takes on a second meaning, as the sonic creation very much envelops the listener, creating what can easily be termed as a modern lullaby.

Working in perfect harmony with the music, the vocal team of Imogen Heap along with emcee work from Mintos, are able to present a fantastic vocal contrast, whilst somehow making both their styles flow with the song.  Though at the time she was still very much a rising star, Imogen Heap now stands as one of the most well known voices within a number of different groups such as Frou Frou, as well as a solo artist.  The way in which her voice soars across and above the music on "Blanket" is truly breathtaking, and it is her contributions that help the song to gain an almost ethereal feeling.  It is also within Heap's vocals that one can feel the sense of loneliness that the song perfectly conveys, and there are few other examples in music history where this emotion is captured as honestly as it is here.  Yet the song would not be as brilliant as it is without the contrasting vocal performance from Mintos, as he connects the group to hip-hop, and much like the music, shows the power of subtlety.  Bringing a smooth, almost soft-spoken delivery to "Blanket," his work here stands as one of a handful of cases where the rhymes seem to transcend the genre of hip-hop, and one can easily understand why this song can appeal to a much wider audience.  Furthermore, the pain and almost dark feelings can be heard clearly in his voice, and yet there is an honesty in his delivery that makes the song easy to relate to by people all across the globe.

The final piece of "Blanket," the lyrics, are just as important as the music and vocals, as they hit quite hard and to those who have experienced the feelings conveyed, there are few other examples in history that speak of these feelings as accurately.  Though it is not an emotion to which all can relate, for those who find safety and solace within music, "Blanket" perfectly defines an idea which has rarely been explored, and it brings a strange comfort to those who truly understand the mood of the song.  Both Heap and Mintos take slightly different approaches to the idea, but when Mintos delivers the lines, "...see the music I consume to escape the doom and gloom, all the beats and melodies they keep realities at bay, but what happen when the record drummin' start to fade away...," there is an almost tragic beauty that can be felt.  Later in the song, Heap sings of the emptiness that can quickly overtake such people in the absence of music, and it is is within the combined sound of the two that one can truly feel why the title of "Blanket" is so fitting.  Yet one cannot look past the fact that outside of Europe, the song remains virtually unknown, though it is similarly impossible to deny the musical brilliance that is found in every aspect of the song.  Perfectly deploying a unique balance of funk, blues, electronica, and hip-hop, there is simply no other song in history that carries the same power and emotion that one can find in the 1998 collaboration between Urban Species and Imogen Heap, "Blanket."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Like a musical Stienbeck conveying the hoplessness and despair in "The Grapes of Wrath".