Somewhere towards the end of 2010, Egyptian Hip Hop [Twitter/Facebook] fell off the map. There was little word from them about much of anything, even after their much-lauded debut EP Some Reptiles Grew Wings put them on course to be one of 2011’s breakout bands. Last year came and went with no music released, and despite an announcement towards the end of last year that their album was finished, the Manchester band are only just getting around to releasing it this week. I was starting to get a bit worried; in recent years, I’ve seen a fair few of my favourite bands just vanish, but thankfully this didn’t happen. Not only have EHH returned, but they have done so in a manner as emphatic as I had hoped for.
It takes a special band not to crumble beneath the weight of a mountain of hype, and the band’s rapid ascent was checked quite harshly (accidentally-on-purpose, one might suspect – with music as delicate and layered as that which the quartet produce, a hastily recorded and released debut wouldn’t have done them justice), but they’ve taken their sweet time with their opening statement, and it is quite wonderful; refusing to cash in on the hype was the best decision they ever could have made. Their music straddles a line between psychedelia and pop, yet in a manner deeper and more refined than the common conception of psych-pop suggests. Opener Tobago is built upon a three-note guitar loop and an arresting bassline, showcasing the band’s love of complexity in a manner similar to fellow Mancunians Everything Everything.
Like their contemporaries, they remember not to let their technical skills get in the way of their pop smarts, and the Animal Collective-channelling, sweeping grandeur of The White Falls, as well as the laid-back yet impeccably focused-sounding Alalon highlight their willingness to experiment with the notion of what makes an accessible pop song – before they surpass themselves with the album’s absolutely perfect 4th track, Yoro Diallo. A waltzing keyboard line opens proceedings before an accomplished rhythm section and some Foals-esque guitar lines take over, impressive harmonies leading into a chorus that manages to sound both minimalistic and huge at the same time. EHH can pull that off, after all – they showcased that on lead single SYH, that song’s separate parts coming together to create a triumphant slice of off-kilter pop.
The quartet describe their sound as ‘progressive pop’, and it suits them extremely well: Good Don’t Sleep is the sound of boundaries being pushed, but it remembers to pack in brilliant hooks and choruses along the way. There are several head-turning moments on the album, too – the languid feel of 6-minuter Snake Lane West throws the listener for a loop, chugging along for a while before opening out into something that trades dreaminess for sheer beauty. The album is as strong as one would have expected from EHH, with a great flow and an excellent balancing of moods. Its standout track is saved until last, however, with the infectious, hook-driven Iltoise bringing Chapter 1 of the band’s career to a close. Two years in the making, ambitious and staggeringly confident: Egyptian Hip Hop’s debut album is finally here, and it delivers in spades.
Good Don’t Sleep is out now via R&S Records.