Thursday, 8 July 2010
Album review: 1 inch/1/2 mile - Grasscut (Ninja Tune).
An attempt to define what it is to be English has been omnipresent in popular music from these Isles since at least the Kink's 1968 masterpiece Village Green Preservation Society. Artists from Jethro Tull through Blur to the Streets have sought to recapture the essence of what it is to live in Albion.
The latest such effort comes from the world of electronica. Grasscut's debut is released on (the as ever excellent) Ninja Tune and combines old 78's, spoken word samples and ambient techno to excellent effect. The period it evokes is the post war era through to the dawn of Thatcherism and the decline in manufacturing. 1946 samples a woman talking about the effects of rationing while glitchy beats create the feel of rusting production lines in the excellent Old Machines .
The most obvious influence that springs to mind is Lemon Jelly, but this is to do Grasscut a disservice. Like Lemon Jelly they build up collages around spoken word samples but there is a degree of forward thinking here which is often sadly lacking in their predecessors. The Grasscut sound is, on a number of occassions, considerably more upbeat. Having said that, a number of tracks feature what can only be described as a 'music box' breakdown - think of the sound of a ballerina in a velvet cased box and you get the idea. The track Muppet is just one that utilises this effect but also manages to combine an edgy dance sound and climaxes with an ambient choir.
Tin Man and In her Pride are both lovely. Tin Man starts with a piano and cello before giving way to what sounds like an Indian vocal and a Flaming Lips style rythym section. The Lips are clearly another influence of Grasscut, as is Beck, most notably on opener Highdown and on The Door In the Wall which is undoubtedly the most commercial track on the album and wouldn't be out of place on an indie radio station playlist.
It goes without saying that 1 inch/1/2 mile has the feel of a soundtrack. Library music, Krautrock and classical sounds are all also in the mix somewhere and yet over the course of the album one feels that this Sussex collective could have pushed things even further. I await their live dates and second album with relish.