ALBUM REVIEW: Andy Cooper – ‘L.I.S.T.E.N.’: Ugly Duckling lyrical scientist in flight

ANDY COOPER first brought his dizzying lyrical flow to us from Long Beach, California through the offices of Ugly Duckling, who stripped hiphop and MCing right back to its basic science – incredible technique, fantastically sourced breaks and laidback grins – fun, in short, over a series of cracking old-skool albums including Taste The Secret and Journey To Anywhere.

Since the trio went quiet roundabout when the tens bled into the teens, Andy was also absent from our ears for a while, resurging for Unique Records on 2016’s Room To Breathe (The Free LP).

One further album on another label later, he’s returned to Unique for his third solo outing, L.I.S.T.E.N. – which acronymically breaks down to Lyrical Innovation Supplying The Ear’s Need. And with a flow as dizzying and tongue-twisting as Andy, you’d better believe that title.

Why L.I.S.T.E.N., Andy, as the title? Always one to cock a snook at the worst excesses of the scene in hiphop and beyond, he says “the scene today is so dependent on fast-paced, social media marketing and instant reactions that I don’t believe the audience has time to actually listen to songs and enjoy them; which, in my opinion, diminishes the value of music. 

“I’m inviting people to soak in this wonderful art form because it’s one of life’s greatest reprieves”. Amen to that.

He’s been busy busy through the past year or so, ‘rona or no ‘rona – that ain’t gonna stop a lyricist of Andy’s calibre. Earlier this year he collaborated with Bristol’s The Allergies on a 7”, “Why You Buggin’” for Time Strikes; in fact, he enjoys working with them so much, being of a like mind on that party breaks vibe, he sings on a trio of tracks on The Allergies’ latest album; so much so that DJ Moneyshot reckons “he’s officially seeking Allergies citizenship”

Take a look at the album cover. Andy’s offering you a pair of cans. Do the decent thing: whack ‘em on.

Andy Cooper, photographed by Miff Morris

He drops us into the experience on a fat double bass lick with a little bossa offbeat; excoriating the people who have turned their back on the joy that comes from old-skool. “I’m pretty certain nobody cares / This sound has been irrelevant for 25 years … Whatever the case, the tune is fresh / Even if I am the only one truly impressed.” As it shifts up a percussive gear, he lets rip over a crisp jazzy loop, those syllables flying so fast it’ll tie your head in knots.

…. And that’s absolutely nothing against the torrent of imagery flying at you on the title track, pulling a little insouciant nod to Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” over a soul-gospel shimmy. “Why don’t you listen and learn?” enquires a nameless singer lifted into sampledelia.

“The Man” comes in locked and loaded on a proper old-skool funk finery courtesy DJ Moneyshot. It’s so fleet of foot, pop cultural references dropping at warp speed: Margaret Thatcher, Jaegerbombs, De La Soul … . “Struttin’” drops into a Daisy Age lope, but Andy uses the space to urge us up ‘n’ out, be alive, stop watching it all pass us by. “Can we put one foot in the front of the next / Even for a couple of steps?”. We should, if we can, when we can, while we can, step out, show out and live.  

I tells ya what’s a phat banger of a track; and that’s “Tension Release”, a crisp break and sample loops borrowing heavily from the mid-70s, it’s up there with Blackalicious in its unstoppable precision. Cracking. “Heart” brings grandstanding brass, helium samples, and a big freak-off boom of a bass drum to thunder outta your speakers. It’s fiery, and Andy is unapologetic, “unrefined”, and we’re glad he’s that way. It’s a partial reuniting of Ugly Duckling, with his old buddy Young Einstein at the wheels of steel. You can hear that chemistry, that intuition.

Berlin’s champion DJ Robert Smith stops by and gives it the turntablist brilliance on the jazzy “What Do You Do?”, which seems to lift from Astrud Gilberto, Claudine Longet, or a similar breathy chanteuse, and spirals her up and away to duet  – or should be duel? – with Andy. Imagine trying to battle this guy, seriously. You’re on the ropes right now. Take that towel, throw it in, bathe in the glow of a lexical heavyweight.

And that sums up L.I.S.T.E.N. – Andy’s a proper prizefighter for old-skool hiphop. No gimmicks, no space-traveller-alias frippery, no big bucks clothing labels, just this: amazing delivery, a decent DJ = bangers. No frills, good honest food for your ears. Pure groove, good fun. It’s hiphop deluxe like they used to make like Andy still makes.

L.I.S.T.E.N.‘s out now digitally – follow the link below – but distinctly 2020 ‘rona chaos mean the little silver jobs and the wax aren’t gonna be available until nearer Christmas; which means the guy in red can come down your chimney with it, if you get your pre-order in now.

Possibly best enjoyed on tape on a decent ghetto blaster while wearing elegant shades, let the old-skool embrace you.

Andy Cooper’s L.I.S.T.E.N. is out now digitally via Unique Records, with CD and vinyl formats to follow on December 11th; purchase yours here.

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