MJ Cole - Sincere - Review
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critics' view

One of the first superstars to break out of the relatively new genre of 2-Step/UK Garage is Mr. Matthew James Coleman. Most of us know him as MJ Cole. He has been producing tracks for quite some time, but his biggest breakout hit is the seminal anthem “Sincere,” a track that has been remixed ad nauseum in the three years since its release. His album, of the same title, is certainly just as powerful and influential as the single.

“Sincere” is one of those albums that goes alongside Goldie's “Timeless” or Roni Size's “New Forms” as a primer CD for someone who's curious about a genre of music that's new to them. I would absolutely recommend this album to anyone who's got even the slightest hunch of interest in 2-Step. However, those who lack any discernible Soul need not apply.

What is especially interesting is that like his labelmate, Roni Size, MJ has a very distinctive sounding style to what he does. The way that he sets up his drum sequences is extremely distinguishable, much like Mr. Size's unmistakable emphasis on the drums in Drum n' Bass. One can hear an MJ Cole remix or original track and detect his production from certain indicators, such as the aforementioned drum patterns and his penchant for using synthesized string plucks.

The introduction is like a warped mish-mash of piano loops and samples from “Sincere” slowed down over a rugged bassline. It leads quite nicely into the second track, “Tired Games,” featuring Elizabeth Troy, who does the vocals on many of “Sincere's” 16 tracks. The stop-and-start guitar of “Tired Games” might make you pause upon first listen. Rest assured, there is nothing wrong with your speakers. There is nothing wrong with your CD player. You will know once you hear the drum kicks creep up and jump right in. More vocal madness ensues with “Attitude.” “Bandolero Desperado” boasts the MCing talents of Garage vocalist Danny Vicious. While many people tout the track as one of their favorites on the album, the piano-looping intro to the track is so well-crafted that the remainder of the track feels like it's just downhill from there. Literally, the first thirty seconds of this track are so incredibly slamming that the moment the beat changes, the track has lost me. Now, the next track, “MJ FM Interlude,” is rather interesting, as the track simulates a pirate radio station in London, complete with phone calls, shout outs and MJ's second single, “Crazy Love” played in snippets as Danny Vicious busts a flow to finish out the interlude and lead into the masterful track…”Crazy Love.”

If you haven't heard it, “Crazy Love” sounds like one of the major tracks with major crossover appeal in the States. Complete with the trademark string plucking, percussion and vocals from Elizabeth Troy, any “Urban” radio DJ could slyly sneak this one into the playlists and get some buzz from it. “You're Mine” is a track with just the right vibe. It sounds like the soundtrack to a warm Sunday afternoon at the park. “Sanctuary” is another vocal track with some bounce to it. It's better than album filler, but it doesn't stand out against the power of some of the other songs on the CD.

“I See” is a break (no pun intended) from the uptempo pace of the rest of the album. It feels like an Anglicized version of a Timbaland track. It is markedly the slowest song on the album. The slowness is merely a blip on the radar as one of the most well-known 2-Step tracks ever produced fires up. The funny thing about “Sincere” is that one must hear it on a good sound system to pick up a lot of the strange little cadences of the track. The difference between hearing the weird backward vocal inflections on headphones or dinky computer speakers and hearing them on a nice stereo system makes all the difference.

“Strung Out” is a very moody orchestral track. It feels very warm, then chilly at sudden points. The strings add a very nice touch to the track though. “Rough Out Here” features the vocals of Guy Simone, who sounds like he's channeling the spirits of Al Green and Luther Vandross at the same time. “Slum King” just sounds like a rough, rugged peak hour track. From its uptempo intro to the hard, rolling bassline, this one is designed to replace asses on chairs with coats and purses.

“Radio Interlude” sounds like someone flipping back and forth between garage on the radio and Afro-Brazilian sounds one would hear during Gilles Peterson's mix shows on Radio 1 in London. Elements of all of the sounds on the radio dial meld into one solid vocal track that leads out into MJ's third commercial single, “Hold On To Me.” It is a track that is on par with the sounds of “Crazy Love” and “Sincere” in that it has a hell of a lot of commercial appeal to it. However, commercial certainly does not equate with bubble gum pop in this case. The production is butter smooth as the drums skip along. One of the biggest highlights of the album is the final track, “Free My Mind.” Simone's vocals serenade over a track that is gorgeous, for lack of a more descriptive term. It's not a dancefloor mover, but it is definitely a track that sounds fantastic, makes a great wind-down, and leaves one feeling very satisfied with the purchase.

Many will argue that 2-Step/UK Garage is a shallow, one-dimensional genre that will fade like overchewed gum. However, albums like “Sincere” go to prove that UK Garage is more than a fad. The level of craftsmanship that lends itself to this production puts it leagues above any derision. Purchase “Sincere.” It might be a bold statement, but this is the equivalent of “New Forms” for the genre. We can only wait and see if the Garage craze comes ashore to the States as it has in Europe.Head Hunters took the necessary risks. It would not only go on to pave the way for electronic music and hip-hop style, but Hancock's eclectic sound would cut across to influence other genres of music as well. Moreover, it ultimately changed the way people heard music by opening the door to new musical soundscapes and possibilities. For that fact alone, Head Hunters remains as one of the most sought after, influential jazz recordings ever created.

Sterling McGarvey
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The Lunar Mission is to educate, promote, discuss, inform and unite electronic dance music and the associated culture in the greater Atlanta area and beyond.
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