A sneak peek at some of the best albums ever to emerge from Bristol.
Bristol has a reputation as one of the UK’s leading producers of professional and up-and-coming amateur musical talent. From Massive Attack to Stanton Warriors, Portishead to Roni Size, Bristol has a genre love affair; bringing out some of the best in trip-hop, drum & bass, rock and reggae. Here’s just a quick snapshot of some of the biggest and boldest from the South West powerhouse.
Massive Attack – 'Mezzanine' (1998)
Playing a huge part in the musical and cultural revolution of Bristol, Mezzanine was an album that signified a turning point in the soundscape of the South West. Falling into the frequently slandered sub-genre of trip-hop, Massive Attack gave us punchy, post-punk/pop-dance fusion in the form of the headline track ‘Teardrop’. The third studio album is peppered with pivotal guest vocal performances, from the likes of reggae star Horace Andy to the evocative soprano of singer and songwriter of Cocteau Twins, Liz Fraser.
Portishead – 'Dummy' (1994)
Dummy is a siren call to the downbeat and desperate; channelling the lonely morning after-the-night-before walk by the harbour, shrouded in a misty Winter haze. It’s a quintessentially Bristol album that’s become wrongly been turned into an alternative dinner party soundscape. Masterfully engineered electronics, plush keyboards and the haunting croons of Beth Gibbons are certainly more befitting an afternoon curled up in a ball of self-pity and bemusement, questioning all of your decisions from the night before.
Idles – 'Brutalism' (2018)
What Idles have delivered with Brutalism is one hell of a sonic gut punch. Tingling with enigmatic rage, social toxicity and unexpected layers of humoristic quips, the album is alive and kicking with the anti-pretentious sentiment those at the top try so desperately to take down. ‘Exeter’ perfectly captures small-town boredom, while ‘Divide and Conquer’ takes aim at the powers that further an impending collapse of society. This post-punk quintet has only been on the scene since 2012, but certainly won’t be going anywhere soon.
Black Roots – 'In Session' (1985)
Bristol is a hub of sizzling, sensual reggae beats. When Black Roots brought out In Session in 1985, the collective channelled beautiful and uplifting tunes to break the cycle of social injustice, local poverty and youth delinquency. Rooted by serious themes, ‘Tribal War’ and ‘Move On’ are a hodgepodge of tropical, twanging guitars, thudding drum beats and serene vocal tones fit for an afternoon of blazing in the sun. If anyone tells you there’s no such thing as “British reggae”, tell them to give In Session a whirl.
Turbowolf – 'Two Hands' (2015)
Fuzzy riffs, commanding melodies and snappy hooks…Two Hands is not a quiet album. The Bristol-born rockers have been defying music genres for the best part of ten years, combining meaty post-punk and rock sounds with a slightly more delicate psych/electronic accent. ‘Nine Lives’ and ‘Rabbits Foot’ stand out among the rest, but that’s not to say there isn’t more than enough to sink your teeth into.
Laid Blak – 'Red & Blak' (2012)
“My eyes are red / I been burnin’” is the universal signifier that it’s time to switch from straights to something a little wonkier. Red & Blak, the first full-length project from the Laid Blak collective, is the Sunday afternoon after the eternal Saturday night that was the 90s jungle and rave scene. ‘Bristol Love’ is a blissful, soul-drenched ode nestled firmly in the reggae genre, while ‘My Way’ featuring Tippa Irie infuses elements of hip-hop, ska and bhangra. A spicy infusion of positivity and diverse musical flavour, from start to finish.
Trust Fund – 'Bringing The Backline' (2018)
Ellis Jones surprised critics in February this year with an intelligent, witty yet melancholy release in Bringing the backline. A natural storyteller and frontrunner of the kaleidoscope of musicians featured on the album, Jones has a knack of balancing humour and romanticism in his analysis of the conceptualisation of music. Spiky riffs, staccato drum machines and jarring guitar strings support some of the most grounded lyricism you’ll hear to date: “I'm a fan of new music / But if you play me any, I just might lose it”.
TC – 'Unleash The Wolves' (2016)
Unleash The Wolves is not so much a “new” production from the Bristol drum & bass producer, but more of a tell-all memoir of days once gone by. TC has spent the best part of a decade straddling the boundary between mainstream and underground, dabbling in liquid, jump up and grime like a true seasoned professional. ‘Storm Brew’ featuring Stylo G is heavy, pulsating and the ultimate late-night antidote for a crap day, while ‘Hold On’ ventures into the icy, liquid abyss before a euphoric drop. If you’re new to drum & bass, Unleash The Wolves can teach you a thing or two.
Tricky – 'Maxinquaye' (1995)
If Massive Attack were the sailors of the trip-hop ship, Tricky was the captain. A pioneer of the underrepresented sub-genre, his debut album Maxinquaye layers the dark, the delicious and downright delectable for 55 minutes of sheer delight. Blending contrasting cultural and musical influences, Maxinquaye offers a suffocating mix of murky atmospherics and wiry electronics supported by vocals from then-girlfriend Martina Topley-Bird, Alison Goldfrapp and Ragga.
Roni Size – 'New Forms' (1997)
New Forms was a milestone for the genre of drum & bass. Roni Size and Reprazent were by no means new faces on the scene, but what they created in New Forms was something that not only broke down barriers between electronic sub-genres, but has since stood the test of time. Clear-cut drums, reverbing basslines and a collective of cool, calm vocals teeter on the edge of liquid, jazz-hop and jungle, and firmly establish Roni Size as the Van Gogh of the drum & bass world.