Agency has become one of the acts that I really look forward to hitting the review pile these days. Odd considering that their cool urban grooves, the soulful blends of pop, chilled dance, their slight nod to hip-hop and occasional rap excursions should resonate so strongly with someone like me who grew up to the sound of the foot on the monitor excesses of rock and indie music. But that says as much about the universal appeal of their music as it does about my personal growth I guess.
And the appeal is easy to see. Agency’s ability to blend a whole range of genres into their own instantly recognisable and wonderfully consistent sound is a joy to behold and being that timing is everything they provide the perfect sound for the here and now. But it is more than just the ability to blend styles and hop genres that ingratiates, for me it is the ability to do all that yet not make any obvious or easy choices nor bow down to fleeting fads and because of this the end result is as full of integrity as it is infectious sounds. Yes, musically all the styles that they splice are easily recognisable and the end result fits right into current discerning mainstream tastes but it is also music that has something to say, gives you something to really think about, this is music with many levels and how deep you wish to explore is up to you. But you may never quite touch the bottom.
If Questions was about emotional politics, about navigating the delicate path of relationships as they form, evolve and disintegrate, about the aftermath, how you deal with it and move on, Alarm is about a wider politic. Again it is the ability to send a strong and important message without resorting to the cliche or bombast that usually comes with the territory that is the real charm here and when the message is to empower people to “pull the alarm, pull forward, keep moving and speak(ing) up” it is the understatement and the restrained nature of the call that means you take it seriously. Anyone can shout slogans, not many can make succinct, level-headed statements, especially within the context of a song.
And that is the real difference here. Alarm may be built on a political vibe but it is the politics of individuality, of being human, and indeed, humane, of respect, of unity and common ground rather than that of entrenchment and party politics. Human, probably the most important track on the record, is a funky, groovesome classic, Terrible takes hip-hop into some fascinating new territory, mixing the traditional sounds of the genre with some wonderfully effected violin and tracks like Security mixes sweeping grandeur with intimate soul searching.
It is rare to come across an album that covers so much ground whilst sounding so focused, that musically wanders across boundaries, barricades and demarcations and understands that everything is really about relationships, whether with a lover, our fellow man or with the world at large and crosses physical, spiritual and emotive boundaries. Rare indeed to come across such an album, and Alarm is definitely such an album, but Agency seems to be able to create such masterful musical collections without even breaking into a sweat.