Granville Sessions – No State (Album Review)

It’s fair to say that the true essence of a band is revealed not so much in the recording as in the live performance. In the case of Granville Sessions, a 6-piece hip-hop band out of Wandsworth, South-West London, the art of the live show is very much at the core of its being. A band renowned for performing on-stage with an array of live instrumentation (including an MPC), they proffer a distinctive sound essentially rooted in hip-hop, but unafraid to go beyond conventions traditionally held within the genre’s purview; indeed the band clearly has its knuckles deep on the pulse of the trendy Brick Lane gig-goer as well as the more traditional hardcore hip-hop enthusiast. Lacing their tunes with a heady dose of jungle-inflected throbs and rumbles, live drum and bass and MPC-rendered sample-heavy beats courtesy of Louis, Zippo and Marvin, and the straight lyricism of emcees Monsieur Frites, Luca Brazi and Archetype who each hail from different parts of London, their sound is also unmistakably inner-city urban.

Under the auspices of Trinity Music Brixton Records, Granville Sessions have released an album which hews to themes unique to the capital – painting gritty and authentic manifestations of London life. Perhaps the most evocative of example of this is the eerie ‘Scene Sets’, a track in which the emcees brood over the oppressive anonymity of the daily grind and commute: Just another chump going to town among millions / Trust brother, holdin’ it down in Londinium. Featuring female guest vocals from The King Blues singer Kat Marsh, the song also takes you on a journey through the city’s dimly-lit, concrete-filled streets en route to dreary central nightspots: Go Cargo, Fabric, kiss birds / Rough bouncers, Fed dogs, strip-search. Another recurring theme pertaining to life in the capital, is the inevitable work-life cycle young Londoners become trapped in – typically, a week of intense work culminating in a hefty Friday night pub session. The knockabout humour in ‘Pubsteppin’ lampoons among other things the debauched alcohol consumption many Londoners resort to to momentarily escape the rat race : Sit with the down-and-outs / Binge-drinking down The Crown. Musically, the track displays structured, steady repetitions rendered with the aid of an MPC, but also dalliances with Afrobeat owing to its complex polyrhythmic drum patterns.

The disparate musical strands in this album display an artful and learned blending of musical styles; however, it’s the soulful simplicity of reggae that resonates most in their music. The band’s reggae influence is most strongly felt in ‘Styles’, with syncopated rhythms and electric guitar slides overlaying perceptible bass contributions which true audiophiles will thoroughly relish bumping through their sound systems. Indeed this is an album that requires decent speakers, especially to appreciate the sonic vitality of tracks like ‘Watch This’ – a funky and adventurous number that positively erupts with sound at its peak, and swerves somehow into a drum and bass frenzy complete with muted horn solo towards the end.

Notwithstanding the album’s cross-genre versatility, a couple of its tracks are more orthodox in nature. ‘If’ for example, with its choppy orchestral film score samples, courtesy this time of Luca Brazi, is stylistically more angular but, thankfully still retains the energy of the live drumming instead of opting for a more sterile programmed drum beat. Tracks like these in my opinion, would also further benefit from more emphatic, stand-out choruses as an element to boost sonic intensity and potential audience participation.

Positively teaming with creativity, Granville’s brand of instrumental hip-hop contrasts greatly with mainstream rap’s tepid and polished manifestations. With the energy of their musical performance taking precedence over image and posturing, No State serves primarily as a teaser to get you to go to one of their reputable live shows. Needless to say; the 9-track album is a worthwhile purchase for any open-minded contemporary music fan out there, and more than merits its £6 price tag.


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