It took Leftfield sixteen years to return with Alternative Light Source. In the 1990s, the duo of Neil Barnes and Paul Daley released just two albums, but their dark and exotic electronic dance music was both unique and enormously influential. They skipped an entire decade, before returning in 2010, now without Daley but with a score of guest vocalists instead, and toured for a couple of years before eventually returning with new material in 2015.
The third album opens with a brilliant robotic vocal from Tunde Adebimpe, on the track Bad Radio. It’s fantastic. The huge warping bass and eccentric synth sounds have echoes of Leftism (1995) and Rhythm and Stealth (1999), while at the same time sounding new and contemporary – and also very catchy.
Second track Universal Everything, with Georgia Barnes providing some other-worldly vocals, is simply banging. It’s a huge club piece, deeper and darker than anything on the first two albums, but still with a bit of an unusual twist.
Channy Leaneagh from Poliça turns up to deliver the vocal on Bilocation. It’s rhythmic and hypnotic, not unlike the last single from the second album, Swords. Then for perhaps one of the oddest tracks on here, Sleaford Mods turn up to deliver the exceptional Head and Shoulders, a bizarre poetic piece full of obscure words and even odder concepts, but one which comes together brilliantly.
Nearing the halfway point of the album, most of the collaborations are complete. A simple arpeggiator melody drives Dark Matters, referencing some of Leftfield‘s pre-Leftism material, and before Channy Leaneagh turns up again for another oddity, Little Fish, which bounces along with an almost contemporary rave feel for six minutes, and that theme continues with Storms End, the instrumental track which follows.
Leftfield always have something unexpected up their sleeves, and so the title track Alternative Light Source opens with a gentle strummed acoustic guitar riff, and although it gets big, it never really builds into anything too enormous. Honestly it’s a welcome break from the banging beats which have characterised the album up to now.
If you approach this album expecting to be rocked in the way the previous two albums changed your world, you might be disappointed – this might even be a better album for people who have never heard any Leftfield before – but it does have a sound of its own, and it’s unique in the way that Leftfield always were. It does have its low points though – Shaker Obsession is fine, but far from special, but prudently this album only has ten tracks, so you never really get bored, and this is the penultimate one anyway, so you should really know what this album is all about by now.
Alternative Light Source closes with the adorable Levitate for You, with Ofei. It’s deep and downtempo, and honestly I’d have loved a few more tracks like this. But what do I know? This is a great way to close the album, even if it comes on its own.
With a reputation as solid as Leftfield‘s, a lot of people were inevitably going to be disappointed by this album, but honestly it’s a strong comeback, and it does leave you hoping for more. If you want to stick with the two era-defining albums from the 1990s, that’s your choice too, but I’d definitely recommend the third one too.
You can find Alternative Light Source at all major retailers.