Wonder and Kano’s Lately has stuck out of 2004 like a sore thumb. It’s not that there wasn’t dissonance in grime before it, but never has it been so mesmerising. When you first hear it, it’s unpleasant. Your ears scream “how can it be so out of key?” But the more you hear it, the more it grows on you. And that’s the beauty of it.
Is a discordant tune more pleasurable because it takes effort to find the pleasure? You’ve worked for your buzz. Certainly they’re pleasurable because there’s a kind of deceptive subversion about them. They’re popular yet underground, the kind of glorious balance, a best of both worlds only Timbaland or The Neptunes (pointy snare in one hand, Britney in the other) can usually reach.
Seeing a tune like this become big in grime is pleasurable for another reason. Maybe it’s just me, but watching people being spoonfed shit music makes me deeply angry. Or depressed. Every time a crowd go mad to Robbie Williams/Abba/McFly it makes me want to give it all up. Extreme perhaps, but seeing people responding to Lately, to shit they’ve not been shovelled is heartening. We are clever. We are alive. You can’t tell us what to like. And maybe this is the liberation Coltrane, Ayler et al felt during the ‘60s free jazz/racial struggles.
Just highlighting Wonder’s twisted melodies understates Kano’s flow. Kano’s a great MC, but in this case however it’s not what he’s saying, it’s that he’s saying it at all, that adds to dynamic balance of Lately. Harsh as some grime voices are, Kano’s familiar vocals eases the blow of Wonder’s instrumental. Look at Trim over Wiley’s minimal anthem, “Fire Hydrant.” A flow can cover a multitude of underproduction sins.
If you’re into dubstep this asks serious questions. Dubstep is often dissonant and instrumental (the “dub” in dubstep isn’t just a dub reggae reference, but dub as instrumental). But without the voice to pull it back, isn’t the magic balance overturned? Surely then you're just being "wilfully obscure," a phrase dizzee's manager once used repeatedly in a conversation about Dizzee’s “Happy Talk.” And who wants to be “wilfully obscure” when you can engage with people? And actually say something?
Answers for dubstep, perhaps, are either use of occasional melody or vocals. The balance is found elsewhere, between light and dark, in-key and discordant. Another answer is to use progression ( copyright Digital Mystikz), so the tune develops and engages the ear. But love dubstep as I do, few tracks hit that magic balance in the quite way Lately does.