Album Review: Mr. Scruff – Friendly Bacteria

When I was in the cubs, the leader – I think they were called Arkala or something in those days, happened upon the notion that by making me the leader of a group of them, giving me the responsibility, making me a Sixer I think it was, that would give me the maturity, make me a leader amongst my peers, and all that. The end result was that it didn’t really change my ambivalence towards the whole thing, and it pretty much left it to the others. The added responsibility given to Andy Carthy by virtue of him being at the forefront of electronic music seems to have had the opposite effect on his new album, Friendly Bacteria, which being its playful title and artwork, and indeed some of the music contained within, is an added maturity, an added sofistication. Maybe its the addition of the vocal talents of Robert Owens, Denis Jones and Vanessa Freeman that have sharpened his focus. Whatever it is, it works.

Take ‘Feel Free’ for example. Taking a myriad of samples and sounds, Scruff weaves together something totally captivating that jumps effortlessly between folk, jazz and Latin, its shuffling, stuttering drum line giving the track life. Not club banger by any stretch, but neither does it resort to Starbucks sounds I electronica. There’s plenty of Scruffisms in there, but seemingly with more sheen, and more skill.

There are moments more akin to the dancefloor, with the dribbling electro of the opener Stereo Breath which uses Roots Manuvas Witness as its basis and which fairly struts down along, with heavy bass beats and the first glimpse of the laid back soulful vocals of Denis Jones. Later on in the album, We Are Coming fires a dubby, clubby breakbeat broadside off the boughs of the record, and Where Am I? steals from 80s soul, for a bass heavy track, that just, either by design or accident, just stays on the periphery of the dancefloor.

Although there’s not a bad track on the album, the real treats are the collaborative tracks. The off kilter soul of Render Me blurs the edges around the beats, and lets Jones gets busy on the vibe, while the track with Robert Owens, He Don’t pulls in this sweet violin sound and mixes it up with this rippling electro before Owens proves his nu-soul mastery, effortlessly drawing the listener in. Vanessa Freeman also gets on the soul train with her contribution, the more in your face ‘Come Find Me’.

It could be that Carthy is maturing with his audience, or evolving into making more complex vocal-based songs, or just increasing his skill set. Either way, he just might have made his best album to date. He’d have made a great Sixer.

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