Mr. Scruff - Friendly Bacteria Album Review
Super, mega-blaster, cliché review spoiler alert and blatant factoid: five years is a long time in anything let alone music, the art form that has all the memory span of... 'Friendly Bacteria'. Perhaps Stockport based artist/producer Andy Carthy was wary of being taken for granted after half a decade away from his Mr. Scruff nom de plume, or perhaps he just felt that a change was as good as a rest. Either way, this - his fifth album - is an exercise in re-invention, all wrapped up in the good stuff familiar enough to keep his old posse rattling their chains in approval.
Carthy himself has acknowledged the new "mindset" (euch) and, consequently, style, summing it up pithily as rendering his music into something "Tougher, sparser, less samples, more bass. More vocals and collaborations and shorter tunes". These "more vocals" he speaks of come mostly via the soulful undertow of Mancunian Denis Jones; a man with a voice that is as content to remain in comfortable third gear as it is to pull things out of shape. Opener 'Stereo Breath' is one of fresh air: at times just naked, squelchy, feel-good strutting bass, it's a set of minimalist's new clothes which seem to suit the little hedonism of now. It's a head nodding rumble that also runs through the title track, whilst the bubbling tempo of 'He Don't?' is a wobbly hybrid of that and cheesy 80s funk.
Clean break made, it might've been easier to leave all traces of the past behind and shift the whole caboodle into something post dubstep, or the ambient fug of Jon Hopkins type stuff, but at the heart of Scruffism has been a strain of hip/jazz/hop/soul/house based on whatever could be laid a hand. Although less sample led than before, Carthy proves that there's still mileage in occasionally doing a 180: on 'We Are Coming' he re-injects the Rhodes based swing of previous outings, whilst the Latin rhythms and fuzzy trumpet of closer 'Feel Free' are part of an intricacy that belies any search for just the gut.
It's worth noting that this conscious shift in focus is a brave one that takes Carthy from a relatively comfortable niche into a more crowded space in which the stiffest challenge is in sounding even vaguely unique. 'Friendly Bacteria' is the work of an artist compromising his heritage but not his principles, and although a last few stops were left to be pulled out, all the signs are there that the teleportation should stick.
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