I loved magic as a child. I once saw this guy at a thing in the local church hall, I was much too young to remember what the occasion was, but he gave the wand to my Dad to hold while he was doing a trick, and you’ll (never) guess what happened? The wand went all floppy, and everyone laughed and my Dad grinned back at everyone, and then the magician took it off my Dad and made it all ok again, but as soon as he gave it back to him it went all floppy again. He probably then went on to make some kind of smuty joke that I neither heard nor understood, because I was fairly convinced that what I had just witnessed was actual real magic.
I immediately looked into the magic arts (i.e. I asked for and got a magic set for Christmas) but as soon as it dawned on me the dedication that went into becoming a real magician (and discovering the ‘real’ bit wasn’t exactly as I’d hoped) I lost interest, but every time I saw magic on the TV, it would be transfixed, whether that be (and I apologise to overseas readers for uk cultural references here) Paul ‘not a lot’ Daniels, Tommy ‘just like that’ Cooper, or (on children’s TV) The Great Suprendo, who’s own ‘Piff Paff Puff’ magic words I had commandeered for my own tricks.
Sounding very magical himself is London producer/rapper/singer Xander the Great, but instead of fetching a long line of handkerchiefs (really, who has handkerchiefs at all these days, let alone those in plain bold colours) out of his jacket pocket, or doing that thing with the rings where they either seperate or get tangled up, he’s instead released a mixtape, entitled ‘Caves and Clouds’.
It opens with London 1948, and is atmospheric, guitar led music, perhaps what you would immediately think of as mixtape sort of music. It bursts into this sort of instrumental Kate Bushespue kind of vibe, with a backbeat, before fading into the next track Disco, Melanie. It’s the first time we hear Xander the Great, his insistent r’n’b vocal carrying the song over minimal beats and loops, before it starts to ebb (the introduction of tribal drums) and flow (this ethereal electro-feeling). Moving into Padded Cell, Xander the Great again shows there’s passion and feeling about his vocal, mainly, mainly falsetto in this instance. Again, guitar works are important, with a picked figure prominent both at the end of that song, and at the beginning of Nowhere Far, which follows on. The track has a killer hook, and is single material off the mixtape, should one be needed. It’s smart, hook laden writing as well, it’s quasi indie instrumentation a feature of these tracks, and seperating from the usual R’n’B vocal theatrics. Pause, Strays keeps the laid back vibe that’s been a constant throughout going, with the guitars and synths washing over the vocals, with this organ giving it a sort of religious confessional feel. Anonymous rubber stamps that, more than two thirds through the mixtape, we’re following a R’n’B path rather than a classic Hip-hop trail. Open Eyes echoes through you’re mind before crashing against your ears and throwing these big guitar riffs over us, before Weakest show us that Xander the Great can play the pop hand (albeit with Spanish Guitar riffs) with just as much confidence and credibility as he can everything else, and to make sure he gives us this Grime/Dubstep bassline, just in case we didn’t know he could. And all of a sudden we’re there, last track Young Kids, where its like When Harry met Sally, if Harry had been funk, and Sally had been IDM.
Xander might sound like a magician, but he’s not. What he has done though is wave a (metaphoric) wand over these electro-grime hip-hop beats and conjured up something magical.