Album Review : Azealia Banks – Fantasea (mixtape) (Polydor; 2012)

Azealia Banks – Fantasea (mixtape) (Polydor; 2012)

 By Tara McEvoy @tara_mcevoy

“a scarily accomplished full debut”

Propelled to fame as the potty-mouthed upstart behind “212” (one of the best songs to have graced the airwaves so far this year), Azealia Banks is back to once again provoke the ire of clean-language enthusiasts with the summer arrival of the Fantasea, an album that, despite being one of the most anticipated of the year, she released for free.

Really, though, Fantasea isn’t so much a stand-alone mixtape as a pivotal moment in a young career– does the 21 year old have the musical chops to back up her astounding confidence? The answer- you’ll be glad to know- is a resounding yes.

What better to open with than a rejuvenated version of The Prodigy’s “Out of Space” – a track with such a furious BPM that it sounds like the original on acid (or more, at least, than it was on the first time round).  On paper, this sounds like the most ridonkulously ludicrous proposal you’ll happen upon this side of Ozzy Osborne and Miss Piggy’s take on “Born to Be Wild” (incidentally, not the instant classic you might expect). What transpires here, though – is a shockingly well-realised rave jam – a nod to Banks’ diverse influences, bearing the stamp of an artist who isn’t afraid to defy expectations by incorporating instantly-recognisable melodies into her own work. This sets the tone for all that follows – a storm of Ibiza-ready anthems in waiting, a frenetic fusion of R ‘n’ B and Drum ‘n’ Bass, heralded by the tribal drum tattoo of Diplo-produced “Fuck Up The Fun”. The title alone assures us that the aspiring troublemaker has not dispensed with her penchant for a profanity or twenty.

Yet Banks also shines in rare moments of introspection, as evidenced when chaos gives way to a haunting reimagining of Zebra Katz’s “Ima Read”, a more eerily hypnotic tune than which you won’t find this year.

Tasked with picking up the tone, then, is recent release “Jumanji”. Despite an opening that sounds as if it’s been plucked from a Florence and The Machine B-Side, the track quickly descends into more typical Azealia-territory as cascading steel drums come into play. Yet if there were any fears of the body of work losing its mojo after a (rather epic) seventeen track stint, these are quickly banished with the arrival of “Esta Noche” – as a siren explodes into life mid-chorus, you’ll come to realise that you’ve found the soundtrack to your summer you didn’t even realise you were lacking.

Yes, Fantasea is arguably too reliant on sampled material. Perhaps its lyrics are at times repetitive. All in all though, these minor grumbles are the only flaws to be found in a scarily accomplished full debut.

After such a gem of a collection, it’s tempting to draw comparisons between Banks and a range of contemporary greats from Missy Elliott to Kelis, Rye Rye to Santigold. The truth of the matter, though, is that she has the potential to far excel the accomplishments of these predecessors, with a distinctive brand of dance music that’s eclectic and forward-thinking enough to be achingly cool, while hook-laden enough to be greatly accessible. With one foot in the past, eyes set on the future and tongue firmly implanted in cheek, Azealia Banks is poised to take 2012 by storm.

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