Leeds band Middleman have been kicking around for the best part of a decade now, and while their rock/rap fusion immediately dates them, they’ve still knocked out a good time album here. Synths shimmer, electronics misfire and beats jerk around in a manner not unlike them types from over t’Pennines like Delphic or Everything Everything. And it is high intensity stuff. ‘Helpless’ with its footy terrace chanting and pogo rhythm should be soundtracking an energy drink advert. ‘Blindspot’ too is soon working itself up into a right lather of foaming, stuttering noise.
Problem is, you’re never going to be able to pull off rock/rap without spectres like Limp Bizkit and the Bloodhound Gang looming large and spoiling the party. The ghost of Chumbawamba even turns up in places. And however many sweet synth riffs they throw at the problem, it doesn’t quite go away. Even when they manage to channel more recent influences like former tour partners Ghostpoet and The Streets, there’s still a burst of power chords dragging you back to the 90s.
In fact, the album is at its best when the rock and rap is sent to the back of the class and told to have a long hard think about what it’s done. Album closer ‘Deny It All’, for instance, if you remove the rap, turns into an aching Hot Chip-esque ballad, with shoegaze guitars and sweeping strings. Take the clunky metal guitar off ‘Tunnel Vision’ and you’ve got moments of crescendoing electronica that any modern producer would proudly use. ‘Keep Breathing’, until you get to the talking bit would fit snugly on the 6music playlist c. 2014, but with it sounds like something from a Jo Wiley session c. 1998.
So to really float my boat, I’d need the use of a mind-eraser to rid me of the memory of rock-rap crimes past, or at least a decent remixer who can reduce it to a minimum. For those who can hear past it though, Counterstep has got plenty to offer.