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Scalper - Album Review: The Shine

21 Feb 2023 // A review by Callum Wagstaff
Scalper is Nadeem Shafi, born and raised in East London of Pakistani descent. The Shine is his 5th studio album, following 2020's critically acclaimed The Beast and the Beauty, which dealt heavily with the recent loss of his mother. 3 years later, The Shine is more influenced by the global events of the twenties.

I'll try to spare you too much of my clumsy interpretations going forward, I thought it would be better just to describe my thought process as I made my way through the album.

My first impression of the album was that it was going to be very positive, between the album imagery and Scalper literally blessing the listener in the first track. Bismillah has a backpack rap feel to it and coupled with Scalper's spoken word delivery I expected it to follow a tradition of philosophical waxing and poetry. It felt like the mission statement was to breathe positivity into the world, which is a cool start but wasn't sure if just 11 tracks of positivity was going to be compelling listening.

By the fourth track I had settled easily into hearing Scalper's pleasing, naturalistic delivery against warm, lo-fi, analogue textured production. But so far the tracks had been short, like snapshots of a single thought that each became a mantra.

I'd had a blessing, a thought about social distancing, a thought about life equality and a song about stars.
They were all ideas that hinted at something compelling but weren't combined or contrasted with any other thoughts. Each thought just had its own track.

Then I got to Toxicity Toxifies.
It's a funky bopper with little kids voices and the tempo is up a notch from the previous songs, but it's the first track to have a peak of a little human messiness poke through the veil of enlightened chillness. Scalper sounds resentful of someone and I'm here for it. By the second verse, the frame zooms out and seems to describe the corruption of power through the ages, from kings to oligarchs.

Tainted Love contains the most visceral line "hailing caustic acid rain burning holes in your liver" and continues to corrode the meditative approach of the first section of the album, showing off Scalper's apocalyptic anxiety. He fixates on scarcity of resources and inequality. There's a collective 'Them' character in the lyrics, a man in the high tower archetype who "fed us a rotten carcass, nicely spiced it up" and there's some beautiful, bitter alliteration and inset rhymes describing the tainted love in satisfying detail.

The Game is the first track with a prominent minor key and there's also a little extra dirt to the tone. Though it sounds mostly like a song about cooking, there's just enough talk of derangement and dragons against a backdrop of a-typical minor patterns that it feels like super occult knowledge or impending psychosis.

By now I can feel that this album is structured like a rabbithole and as I get deeper into it I'm running into mentions of werewolves and cannibals. It feels like psycho-spiritual warfare in a teacup. The second to last track, Shine, brings back the mantra structure after a good 4 songs of lyrical descent into slowcore frenzy. "Shine little creature, little creature shine"
feels like light poking out of the tunnel.
Then finally I'm life plays.

Diseased brass instruments sound a-tonal at first but I realize it's just detuned and background warble tape noise intensifies the unease. Sufi Qawwali singer Nawazish Ali Khan adds more jagged notes to the fray and Scalper comes up with a bunch of ways to say life's a bitch.
He personifies it, making it sound like a sadistic, callous God.
"I'm going to show you so many pleasures, so many sights. You'll want so much more but then I'll leave you and you'll die." It gave me a little giggle, I expected a loop back to the positive affirmation atmosphere. Even as I began the song I expected at least a philosophical resignation - but no, there's a palpable sting of resentment in the delivery. The last words are a cold "that's life" and then a brass death march.
The ending might not be for everyone but the absurdity really tickles me, I really liked it.

I love an album that leaves you in a different place than you started and The Shine subverted my expectation that it would come back out the other side of the tunnel full circle.
I feel like I'm at the bottom of a well with a broken leg.
I hear the album like a character study of the breakdown of a brittle spiritual identity in the face of environmentally induced mania.
It also helps that the man's voice is so naturalistic in its delivery that it's nearly a speaking voice and I could listen to him read the dictionary.
Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

About Scalper

Scalper is Nadeem Shafi, born and raised in East London of Pakistani descent. First seen in Aotearoa New Zealand at WOMAD 1997 as the vocalist for the British band Fun-da-mental. Now based on the wild West Coast of Auckland, having moved here in 2007. Scalper is Hip-Hop like you’ve never heard it before. Moody, gritty beats with introspective lyrics that conjure visions of epic proportions, and an electrifying live performance that demands attention.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Scalper


The Shine
Year: 2023
Type: Album
The Beast and The Beauty
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Want More
Year: 2019
Type: EP
Year: 2017
Type: EP
The Emperor's Clothes
Year: 2015
Type: Album
Butchers Bakers
Year: 2012
Type: Album
Flesh & Bones
Year: 2010
Type: Album

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