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Three Great Trip-Hop Songs

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I wanted to call this piece “The Bristol Sound,” but one of the three groups I’ll be talking about had the bad manners to come from Hartlepool, way way north of Bristol.  But it’s undeniable that the genre that became known as trip-hop originated in Bristol, and we can with some confidence pinpoint the group responsible for the genesis of that genre: Massive Attack.

The Originators: Massive Attack

How to choose the best song from so, so many great tracks?  Massive Attack came out of the gate with what most people consider their best album, Blue Lines, featuring the soon-to-be-massively-popular Tricky and boasting such amazing tracks as “Unfinished Sympathy” and “The Big Wheel”; but I think I have to plump for the first, and title, song on their second album, Protection, as their finest moment.  I won’t deny that the fact that Tracey Thorn is the vocalist plays a large part in my choice.

Also from Bristol: Portishead

Fans of this elusive, publicity-shunning group know better than to expect new music from them more than once a decade or so.  But when there is new stuff, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard. I suspect that Portishead actually defines trip-hop for a lot of people, but some of those people probably never got beyond their admittedly brilliant debut album, Dummy.  I’m going to single out the aurally disturbing “Machine Gun” from their 2008 album Third as a high-water mark.  A lot of people apparently now consider trip-hop music to be dinner-party music for middle-class twats, but I dare you to try to pass off this song as background music.

Trip-Hop With Soul: Sneaker Pimps

This is a group that, to my ears, never made a false step, although they lost their original vocalist, Kelli Dayton, after their first record.  (She is now a tremendously popular singer who goes by the name Kelli Ali.  Look her up – you’ll like her.)  But probably my favourite of their songs is “Waterbaby,” from that debut album, Becoming X.  Although “Spin Spin Sugar” and “Tesco Suicide” were (and deservedly) the big hits from that album, “Waterbaby” is the killer track: there’s one of those chord changes in the chorus that will melt both your heart and your ears, and the lyrics, trust me, are devastating, brilliant, and devastatingly brilliant.

What About The Rest?

Don’t get me started on other favourite trip-hop or downtempo (or whatever generic name you prefer) artists – Groove Armada, Lamb, Thievery Corporation, London Grammar – hell, even Moby, I’d say.  The three songs I’ve named are, I think, the pinnacle of the genre.  Check them out and see what you think.




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