Since the early 1990's, I've been a big fan of the 4AD label. Back then, I was really into groups like This Mortal Coil, The Cocteau Twins, and Dead Can Dance. About 1995, though, I started noticing changes in the label that made me wonder what was happening. First, the Cocteau Twins left for Capitol Records, then Red House Painters left the label because of a disagreement on a brilliant album. Instead of being infatuated with the label, I grew more and more distant until I hardly paid attention at all to their releases. Finally, though, in 1997 they released the debut album by a group called GusGus and I figured the label might be going in some different directions (including snagging up the sly, beatmaters Thievery Corporation). I saw them edging into the more electronic side of things very gradually and I liked it (even though GusGus' follow-up was less-than-stellar).
Cuba is another group that is helping to propel the label into a slightly different direction. In style and feel, I'd have to say that they kind of remind of Primal Scream (via Vanishing Point)) with their incorporation of some rock music into electronic beats (or is that the incorporation of electronic beats into rock music?) and some more traditional song structure (with lyrics) on a about half of the tracks.
The album starts out with the thumping, uplifting "Cross The Line" with sort of rapped vocals by a character named Mau. They're actually more sung than a majority of rap out there, but do have the delivery in common. With a big chorus filled with horns, the line "Only together are we unstoppable" becomes even more arm-pumping and it makes the track sound a little fluffy despite best intentions. The second track "Devils Rock" opens up with a little flute bit before dropping off into some slimy bass and guitar with a nice little beat laid in behind it all. The track eventually morphs into something that sounds like it could fit very nicely into a western movie for the 90's.
Sounding a touch like Massive Attack, the group lays down a bed of stringed instruments on "Black Island" before dropping in a beat and a wah-wah guitar. With vocals by Shara Nelson, it could very well be the sequel to the aforementioned groups "Unfinished Symphony." But really, there's a lot worse groups that one could sound like. After the ambient noodling of "King of Kelty" and the very poppy "Starshine" (featuring Angie Brown on light vocals), the group kicks into one of the slickest tracks on the disc. Not letting their namesake go completely to waste, "Peak Flow" is an awesome instrumental track that has a sample of that cigar-smokin' Fidel Castro in the background. It works like a charm. They keep things laid back for one more track before ripping into another Mau-delivered vocal track in "Havana." The disc closes out with a nice mix of upbeat and laid-back tunes, including the all-in-one closer. It's a fairly mixed-bag disc with some tracks that have big beats while others lull you off a little more with their atmosphere. In overall sound, the disc reminds me a lot of the Chemical Brothers most recent release, Surrender with its change-up tone and inclusion of almost pop-sounding vocal tracks. It's a well-constructed release and another solid release in the 4AD arsenal.