There’s a very odd trend emerging with producers around the world – including Mr Jukes – and we’re not sure what to make of it. People are keen to jump on young female pop stars when it comes to issues like appropriation, but we’re reaching a curious phase where white male producers seem to be plundering from cultural sounds without reprieve.
If Calvin Harris started that off, then former Bombay Bicycle Club member Jack Steadman certainly runs with it. More to the point, there’s a sense of trying to absolve themselves of that guilt by employing a largely ethnic cast, but there’s no disputing the sound. In the case of God First, it’s very much a play on funk, jazz, and soul – even the name Mr Jukes conjures up a certain image – but to annoyingly tremendous effect.
So credit where it’s due. Steadman knows what he’s doing and delivers a studious and loving portrait of sounds he clearly adores. He gets a few licks in himself, opening with himself front and centre on Typhoon and Ruby, the former almost like a pub shanty that builds into a wonder of instrumentation. The latter takes a hypnotic piano bed before adding rhythms that we’re pretty sure are far away from his UK home.
Which is where we start feeling conflicted. Angels/Your Love is a breathtaking masterpiece of genre fusion, inviting BJ The Chicago Kid and a chorus of singers to create something positively resplendent. But it samples Argentine composer Jorge López Ruiz – one of many samples peppered throughout the record – at which point it sort of feels like its traipsing and looting from sources it really shouldn’t.
That’s the dour, cynical side of us talking though. Steadman, for all his ethical question marks, delivers a record that’s so damn warm and so damn loving that it’s hard to dislike. Whether it’s Lalah Hathaway on From Golden Stars Comes Silver Dew or the legend Charles Bradley on Grant Green, he’s clearly enamoured with every aspect of what he’s making. That love pours out of every song here, every sample, every vocalist used (Elli Ingram on Somebody New, even the right employment of himself on Magic) to create one of the most joyous albums of the year. Like we said, it’s a studious and loving portrait of an incredible sound… it just feels like it’s been done by a bit of a forger.