Band Review: Stateless
While watching sci-fi TV show Continuum, I first heard “Bluetrace” by Stateless from their self-titled album and went into paroxysms. I needed to know and hear more. Setting land speed records to Tunefind and then Spotify, it wasn’t long before I had all of their creations.
Stateless coalesced in Leeds in the UK in 2002 and operate from there or London. Not a band that can easily be categorised, they are characterised as electronic/trip hop/electro-rock. When asked what they are, front man Chris James explained the reasons they are called Stateless:
'Stateless' is a lack of nationality with an absence of any recognised link between an individual and any state and, therefore,not under law.
He says that musically they are stateless and don’t belong to any particular scene which gives them freedom. No barriers, no borders, no restrictions, no rules. You just can’t pidgeon-hole them. If you ask me, their music is the art of no state in that they are indefinable; not a liquid, solid or gas.
When starting out they realised that more traditional music did not offer the musical challenge they were searching for. They expanded their repertoire to embrace hip hop elements into the electronic vibe; enter DJ Kidkanevil, the band's programmer. They threw in a little classical and pschadelic rock and stirred it up. They are beat oriented and begin with a rhythmic foundation and build from there. They confess to be influenced by acts like Radiohead and DJ Shadow and have been compared to Massive Attack, Portishead and Coldplay.
Their two full length studio albums are quite different. “Stateless” is inspired by dreams and the blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality, whereas “Matilda” is about longing, loving, life, death, magic, lust, and forgiveness. They enjoyed making this one so much that James said that it was “so much fun because it was like best mates playing around in the studio”. I had a good chuckle at that.
Listening to “Bluetrace” from the self-titled album you are struck by the trippy, dreamlike beginning with drunken, languid vocals drawled in slow motion only to be swept up in the metastasising, smashing crescendo. Shredding guitars and crashing drums to be wound up with a crazy trumpet only to fizzle into an abandoned carnival. James said that they wanted a primal scream and “we just wanted to make a lot of noise” The lyrics take you on a foray into risk and desire and the tricky ”dice are rolled” moments of a budding relationship, “My mind is playing tricks on me” being the refrain.
Being compared to Chris Martin vocally is somewhat true on occasion for James, although they have so much more depth than Coldplay. This is manifested in tracks like “This Language” and “Running Out”. “This Language” does have a Radiohead feel about it with a trip hop rap element laced with violin arpeggios with a few vintage radio samples sewn in. The meaning of this one is so relevant, bemoaning the communication issues of tricky speech and modern colloquialisms and the fear and paranoia attached to perfidious motives where we not only have ”duct tape on our mouths but are wrapped in it”. He wants “a dream where we escape these new speak savages”. “Running Out” is a picked guitar track with syncopated rhythms where James uses his falsetto in a truly enthralling way. He is running out of time and running out on a relationship, being disturbed because “she knows you too well”. Looming over him are the dread of being “swallowed alive” and “how long before you crack?”.
“Radiokiller” is a look in on the heady allure of crime where “you only went along for the ride” and ended up “out of your depth” and now “someone will pay”. It’s like a love affair with a gun that came “out of nowhere”, the “spintrigger, she’s a radiokiller, turn the radio up killer”. It channels such an African sound with popping xylophones punctuated by synth effects that almost sparkle and an offbeat rhythm. It ends with the crickets screeching.
With “Exit” he wants to escape. ”I gotta get outside”, ”exit this phase”. He keeps coming back to ”what is done can’t be undone” and “I’m going insane with this weakness” like he is in a comfortable rut that he is conversely afraid of leaving, but he “likes the disturbance” of the change. It is a sweeping, trippy orchestral piece that hypnotises you. “Down Here” is more piano based with a trip hop kicker, complete with jewellery box music where he wonders “how he got down here”, but then recalls that “it reminded him of something beautiful”.
Moving onto “Matilda” we have “Curtain Call” which surreptitiously begins with a flailing arrhythmia and sliding guitars with a creole flavoured moaning vocal. This then gives way to an arpeggio of guitars that evokes an image of someone running through a field. Top that off with a trip hop chorus complete with clashing, discordant climax you can feel the longing and desire in it. She is acting a part, but doesn’t admit the reality of her role even though it is glaringly obvious. ”You must admit you’re not exactly innocent in this. We both know what time it was as soon as you walked in”.
“Visions” and ”Junior”, like ”Curtain Call” have a real deep south vibe about them. You can virtually hear the plantation workers wailing mournfully away. “Junior” has some grating sound effects floating in an ethereal orchestral dream. Maybe inspired by the civil war it weaves a story of countless boys lured to battle by “hatred residing in a fitful mind” and “blood full of energy. There’s fire in your eyes”. “Top of his class”, ”he was going to be a doctor” only to wind up with “a bullet in his spine”. They are warned not to “make your mind a prison cell” or “play god”.
We have “Assassinations” with its pounding bass and psychedelic, tribal beat, and “Song For The Outsider” as well as “I Shall Not Complain” which have a distinct gypsy folk vibe with defiant violins in a mazurka, or brilliant lyrics like “She’s stitching beams of light through buttonholes in the sky”.
“I’m On Fire” has the creole beat still happening accompanied by lilting guitars and a lullaby of vocals. Opening out to an orchestral vista it uplifts you on a wave of violins and ascending voice. It’s about endless, irrevocable forgiveness where “whatever you’ve done, just bury it” and ‘I don’t care where you’ve been tonight” that leave you wondering what his limits are. He obviously has no problem with it because he wants to “explore our shipwrecks with pockets full of stones”.
And finally we come to “Ariel” (Robert Smith from the Cure did NOT write it). This one is so infectious you will be tempted to salsa. Flamenco guitar and psychedelic keys with trip hop bass make for a distinctly South American flavour. This one is about a so called tempestuous girl who never learned that playing with fire is like “dancing with the devil”. “They say your bedroom went up in flames” being the refrain and “how could you be so damned naïve” the rueful scold. Her story is like a fading fable where “maybe she chose to leave” is the obscure reason for her mysterious disappearance.
The video clip for “Ariel” is quite interesting. A black clad female dancer whirling with a trail of neon ribbons who morphs into one that leaves a wake of haematite strata, like sheets of cracked tin foil. This all on an abandoned warehouse background sporting a random matchstick gazebo that collapses under its own weight like a snowfall!
Seriously epic genious here. They have something for everyone. Stateless are currently working on the next album which is eagerly anticipated by devotees. Definitely worth checking out no matter what your niche.