On Record – MF Robots: Break The Wall (BBE)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

MF Robots is the continuation of a prestigious family tree in British soul and funk music. The new project is spearheaded by Jan Kincaid and Dawn Joseph, who were once part of the Brand New Heavies. Jan, a founding member and part of the group since 1985, found that when he and Joseph started working together they were instantly musically compatible. Drawn to the new project, they wasted no time in building a substantial group together.

There has never been an explicit desire to deviate greatly from their roots, the group’s Bandcamp page professing a continued love of 1970s and 1980s American rhythm sections while recognising the importance of their part in Acid Jazz with the Heavies in the early 1990s. MF Robots, though, is a move towards a more improvised and instinctive way of working, collaborating with a number of illustrious guests.

The group is completed by keyboard player Alex Montaque, bass player Naz Adamson, guitarist Mark Beaney, Jack Birchwood on trumpet and Ben Treacher on saxophone. The guests include bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, who has session work with David Bowie and Lenny Kravitz under her belt, and guitarist Cory Wong, a solo artist and member of the Vulfpeck collective.

What’s the music like?

MF Robots are like an Indian summer. Their approach is incredibly fresh, their grooves and rhythms straight off the page and with a whole set of brilliant songs to offer. The chemistry between players is evident, but the song is always the winner. In the best tracks we get a good song and an excellent instrumental section, with extended grooves like Crazy Life hitting the spot consistently.

That track is a faster number and is immediately complemented by the slower funk of Gold, beautifully sung by Kincaid with an easy, natural groove and punctuation from the brass of Birchwood and Treacher.

The band’s early songs, over a year old now, sound brilliant in the context of the album. Mother Funkin’ Robots is a celebration of their funk heritage, with some seriously taught grooves, while the extended version of Happy Song leans provocatively towards the sounds of Masters At Work. Good People has a radio friendly chorus that the likes of Trevor Nelson have been quick to exploit, while the breezy Make Me Happy has immediate sunshine appeal. Brand New Day is another singalong number, while Foster adds a really nice touch to songs like The Love It Takes and You, ‘walkin’ the walk with your head in the clouds’ rather beautifully.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. The band do pay an obvious homage to the music of their immediate past, but their own musical instincts and personalities shine through in a set of fresh, upbeat and celebratory songs. If you want to sing and dance with considerably less cares in the world than you currently have, then this is the place to come!

Is it recommended?

It certainly is. Break The Wall hangs together effortlessly, a stream of rhythmic consciousness and good feelings that manifest themselves into some excellent songs. MF Robots are an outfit to keep tabs on, for sure.

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