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‘The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light’: Behind The Streets’ New Album
Ben Cannon
In Depth

‘The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light’: Behind The Streets’ New Album

The Streets’ long-awaited sixth album, ‘The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light’, sees Mike Skinner’s storytelling go full-on cinematic.

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Fronted by the acclaimed rapper and lyricist Mike Skinner, The Streets have made a triumphant comeback with their much-anticipated sixth album and its accompanying feature film, The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light. While their 2020 mixtape, None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Alive, offered fans a taste of the group’s evolving sound, The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light represents The Streets’ first album proper since 2011’s Computers And Blues and essentially doubles as a soundtrack to Mike Skinner’s debut feature film.

Reportedly created over a span of seven years, each song on The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light sees Skinner weaving together a multi-layered narrative inspired by his love of film noir and crime fiction novels, while drawing upon his extensive experience as a DJ in nightclubs to infuse his storytelling with newfound depth. In a bold move, Skinner has assumed a multitude of roles on the project, including director, producer, writer, editor, composer and lead actor, pushing the boundaries of his artistic expression beyond anything he’d ever attempted before.

Listen to The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light’ here.

 

“It’s been such a huge undertaking and because I’ve been funding it myself, you can’t really do it all in one go,” Skinner has said. “But the more help I got, the more I was convinced it was going to happen.” Musically, The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light has emerged as a sprawling Sandinista!-style record that takes in genres as disparate as UK garage, 2-step, house, techno, ska, electro-pop and sample-pilfering 90s hip-hop, easily making it the group’s most ambitious sonic journey to date…

The narrative concept: “The film is an exploration of different types of nightclubs, injecting a crime story into the banal life of a DJ”

Beginning with Mike Skinner’s love letter to club culture, Too Much Yayo, The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light immediately thrusts listeners into the throng of ravers under the strobe lights, each with their pupils dilating due to various intoxicants. “Obviously, clubs, music and drugs all go hand in hand,” Skinner admits, “and the song really is about setting the scene before the story starts to unfold.” With throbs of wobble bass and a hypnotic hi-hat pattern, Skinner even throws in a few trap-influenced rolls, proving that The Streets’ keen ear for the contemporary is as sharp as ever.

Built on a house-inspired groove, the swaggering Money Isn’t Everything delves into the shaky financial life of a DJ, with a nagging synth hook conjuring an impending sense of doom. “Musicians don’t have much money, they sort of just go from gig to gig,” Skinner says. “But we have to realise that we’re really blessed to be musicians and it isn’t so much about money.” Lyrically, The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light gives us a reminder of Skinner’s peerless abilities, his semi-spoken delivery continuing to offer a uniquely poetic take on weekend revelry.

In the album’s narrative, these opening songs serve as exposition, introducing listeners to a lowly DJ who casts his eye over the punters who bump and grind before him. While the record and the film both crystallise around the mysterious drug-related death of a club-goer, Skinner’s love of cult cinema quickly makes itself felt in his noir-ish exploration of urban crime, transforming clubby bops into masterful character studies. As the DJ searches for answers, it transpires that the nightclub he works in faces the threat of closure, mirroring the grim reality many dance venues face across the country. “I was inspired by all of the club closures I’ve seen over the years and I’ve been watching lots of black-and-white films,” Skinner explains. “The film is an exploration of different types of nightclubs, injecting a crime story into the banal life of a DJ.”

Shepherded by a folk-tinged acoustic riff, the DJ’s inner monologue comes into view on Walk Of Shame, delicately capturing the unbearable loneliness of a late-night disc-spinner (“The walk of shame is my daily commute”). Like 2-tone meets moombahton, the reggae/ska flavour of Something To Hide adds a cross-genre flair to proceedings, adding to The Streets’ sonic melting-pot with the occasional flurry of 90s boy-band-style chimes as the DJ people-watches (“We pretend that we are making do, while sliding into death/Like we slide into DMs with a little guest list/We can make it through the night”).

In a flashback to 90s glitch with Space Invader-style zaps, the skittish syncopation of Shake Hands With Shadows brilliantly soundtracks the way Skinner’s DJ makes a Faustian pact with his audience. As the song crescendos with a pulse of wobbling bass, it’s hard not to relate to the lyrics, as Skinner highlights the clash between the escapist hedonism of clubbing and the antisocial impulses of the daily grind (“You make plans with morons, you’re powerless to misfortune”). When all is said and done, Skinner’s wordplay on The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light is cuttingly cerebral, keenly observing his character’s inner thoughts as effortlessly as he did on The Streets’ beloved debut album, Original Pirate Material.

The creative ambition: “The songs are the voiceover. I was trying to make it sound like one of my DJ sets”

As dark and cavernous as a late-night rave under a motorway undercarriage, Not A Good House continues by dropping a minimalist techno groove, full of blinding flashes of glow-stick rhythms. Joining the party, lead singer of The Music, Robert Harvey – who previously featured on The Streets’ 2011 single Going Through Hell – pops up on Bright Sunny Day, as a melancholic piano intro leads to an ominously oscillating melody, Skinner’s acute lyricism cutting through the hiss of distorted ride cymbals.

“The songs are the voiceover,” Skinner has said. “I was trying to make it sound like one of my DJ sets. What I tend to do is I play bassline records, then in between them I play a drill record or a trap record. I don’t really do the breakdown drop thing that bassline DJs do. A lot of the album was just informed by having that feel to it.” In a typically unconventional turn, The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light’s title track samples pre-war jazz trumpets and launches Skinner into a jaunty spoken-word slice of pop-rap, drawing a parallel between Roaring 20s decadence and post-recession Britain.

Kicking off with a contemporary R&B-indebted vocal, Funny Dream keeps the story moving with a waking epiphany (“I had this funny dream about you/That changed the way I feel”) set to a nose-scrunching beat before breaking out the smelling salts. There’s even a nod towards 60s psychedelia on Gonna Hurt When This Is Over, which finds Skinner reaching for nirvana over a woozy Indian sitar hook. Clearly, his musical tastes as a DJ are as varied as his influences as a songwriter, demonstrating how The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light finds The Streets dabbling in a much wider array of styles than ever before.

As the story heads towards its denouement, Kick The Can boasts a bouncing house groove with perky synth bloops, with lyrics that feel like they could be spoken by a bedraggled detective in a Raymond Chandler story (“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts”). By treating the DJ as if he’s an investigator in a potboiler, Skinner wears his pulpy influences on his sleeve. “Films like D.O.A., Devil In A Blue Dress and the written work of Raymond Chandler were a good base as far as the crime element of the film goes,” Skinner has admitted. “That easy-to-track story that doesn’t get too complicated.”

The real-life influences: “Ultimately it’s all the fruits of a decade on the DJ circuit, testing out beats and basslines to see what connected”

With all the playfulness of DJ Premier tinkering around with the buttons of an Akai sampler, Each Day Gives uses some looping piano stabs to aid Skinner’s lyrical exploration of our online habits (“Last minute, grab accommodation online/Just like we diagnose ailments, right?”), before Kevin Mark Trail’s vocal hook serves as a reminder of how life is more than a Facebook post (“We won’t talk about this on social media”). Quicker than you can press Like, The Streets deliver a much-needed dose of reality: “Life has gotten really psychedelic,” Skinner has said, reflecting on social media’s ubiquity, “and meme culture makes something out of nothing these days.”

It isn’t but a beat before Someone Else’s Tune returns to clubland, its jittery, irregular rhythm matched to heartwarming swells of 2-step garage bass. Living under the same club-dwelling spotlight is the album’s lead single, Troubled Waters, whose euphoric trance strings give way to some feverish breakbeats. Tapping into the same ecstasy-addled paranoia of The Streets’ 2004 single Blinded by The Lights, there’s even a touching interlude of classical-inspired piano as the chaos momentarily subsides.

songs/], Troubled Waters will be a trip down memory lane for those who found the group’s second album, A Grand Don’t Come For Free, such a revelatory listening experience. However, The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light is arguably just as eye-opening. “It has been seven long years working on this film and album,” Skinner has noted. “Ultimately it’s all the fruits of a decade on the DJ circuit, watching people in clubs and back rooms, testing out beats and basslines to see what connected – and putting it all together into The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light.”

In many senses, the album’s closing track, Good Old Daze, is its most illuminating moment. A fitting finale to accompany a bus ride home as the credits roll, Skinner recites poetic words over an Elton John-style piano riff and kittenish beats, reflecting philosophically with 3am wistfulness (“Outside an eternal glinting picture/Of serpentine, glimmering rivers of piss/As the bright clubs flush out/The bright young things onto the quieting bunch/On the night bus”).

The artistic payoff: “I’m just completely over the moon that I just did it”

Having taken almost a decade to complete, it’s clear that The Streets’ sixth album, The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light, was both a passion project and a labour of love for Mike Skinner, as was its accompanying film. “The album was done for years,” Skinner has admitted. “But I feel like it’s really good spending seven years making an album, because it’s definitely the way I want it to be now.” Though the new Streets album is a companion piece to the movie itself, it can still be enjoyed independently, and the songs emerge as a testament to Skinner’s dogged determination and creative drive.

“I had to change lots of things just because when I originally wrote the album, I didn’t really know the story as well as I knew it, you know, five years later,” Skinner furthered. With the film receiving screenings at Everyman Cinemas throughout the UK, The Streets’ frontman has every right to be proud of how hard he has worked to make his dream a reality. “I’ve directed it, acted in it, edited, sound mixed, funded, produced it all as well as written it,” Skinner says. “The album doesn’t exist without it.”

Whether listened to as a movie soundtrack or as a new Streets album in its own right, the songs on The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light – thematically rooted in club culture – stretch across numerous genres in a way that’s strikingly ambitious. Lyrically, the record’s noir-influenced story truly showcases how Mike Skinner has evolved from one of Britain’s finest social commentators to a filmic storyteller. “I’m just completely over the moon that I just did it,” he concludes. “I don’t think anyone’s really made a film about nightclubs and DJs that’s really shown in the way I experienced it.”

By drawing upon his lyrical talents to explore the connections between the UK nightclub industry and the criminality of the drug scene lurking in the shadows, Skinner has ensured that The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light has opened a whole new chapter for The Streets. Whether he will continue to tread this path is yet to be seen, but, either way, for fans of The Streets, this album is proof of just how far they’ve come.

Buy ‘The Darker The Shadow The Brighter The Light’ on vinyl, CD and more.

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