Album review: The Pro-Teens – ‘I Flip My Life Every Time I Fly’: low-key cinematic funk immaculacy from mysterious Melbourne collective

The Breakdown

As with the other outfits on the Melbourne instrumental funk scene, there is an element of this music somehow being private, not quite fully available; it's having fun but it's not holier than thou by any means. It doesn't care about anything like that, it doesn't have to try, it just has the essence; which, of course, is even cooler. A nailed-on candidate for an all-back-to-mine kitchen groove sesh, if Lalo Schifrin or Morricone, Mark's Keyboard Repair or early James Taylor Quartet get your groove on, you should be making like a bee and buzzin' over to Mr Bongo forthwith.

THE PRO-TEENS – or, to give them all due full credit, Snooch Dood and the Pro-Teens, and we wouldn’t want to be putting Snooch’s nose out of joint quite this early in our relationship, who knows what vengeful redress he might seek – describe themselves as being “a collection of professional teenagers from the Darebin area in Naarm [Melbourne, Australia, who] indulge in Dorothy Ashby, they delight in DOOM, they thrive on The Fabulous Three and postulate on Placebo.

“Their music reflects that. Utilising the drum set, bass, horn and many other freaky instruments, The Teens like to explore the gamut of sounds, grooves, moods and genres available.”

I’m liking the sound of this. From premier (and much-missed) leftfield hiphop to cult psychedelic jazz harp, this does intrigue

They’re a loose floating collective who, for the purposes of this album, I Flip My Life Every Time I Fly, number a baker’s dozen of contributors. I mean, looking at percussion alone, we’ve got the aforementioned Mr Snooch, a fine gent of the beat he is too, let’s make no mistake; Libby Clique-Baité, Cing Cong, Lex ‘Top Knot’ Twine, Robo Pop … hmmm. Something sounding a little weirdly cartoonish to you?

Indeed it does. The Pro-Teens hail from Melbourne’s burgeoning cinematic-soul scene, which includes both Surprise Chef and Karate Boogaloo, with our band du jour somewhere in amongst them. (Read our reviews of Surprise Chef’s groovy-as album twin assault from last year, All News Is Good News and Daylight Savings, here and here respectively).

Well, casting aside the mask, The Pro-Teens are actually headed up by prolific sticksman Hudson Whitlock, who happens to play in both; this breakaway studio project involves a whole host of fellow Melburnian musical shakers and movers travelling incognito. You’ll also be hearing contributions from guitarists ‘Dead Honest’ Dean Amazing and Foz Mafia, violinist Polly ‘Golly Gosh’ Armoury and cello, dulcimer and marimba from Giraffe Car Mo’Tiffe, among others.

But to loosely paraphrase Gareth from The Office, there comes a time when the joking has to stop; and you’ll find that Hudson’s conception of soundtrack soul and funk played off sampledelia and hiphop is seriously groovy tackle.

Hudson picks up the thread here and spins us a likely tale: “When Libby Clique-Baitè picked up the phone, they did not expect to be discussing a collaboration with the notoriously staunch underground rapper Snooch Dodd.

“Snooch had all the groove ideas in mind, but didn’t have the musical skills to teach them to The Pro-Teens. After a gruelling month-long recording session, full of musical abstraction, poor communication and top-shelf freak factor, The Pro-Teens came through with the goods and recorded all the beats down to the tee.

“Now it was time for Snooch to put his rhymes on top. Snooch became increasingly jittery throughout the session, and by the end of the month he threw in the towel and decided that the beats were still not good enough. He flew off the rails and vanished.

“The album is now a rap-free instrumental sojourn. Snooch Dodd and The Pro-Teens settled it out in the court room, and the judge ruled that Snooch was the conductor and songwriter and The Pro-Teens were just the band.

“The two entities haven’t spoken since that fateful recording, but the collaboration will go down as one of the most dysfunctional and fruitless moments in rap history. Thanks Snooch! Great work Pro-Teens!”

Laid down live to tape in crammed attics and shared house recording spaces, I Flip My Life Every Time I Fly was released on the College Of Knowledge imprint late last year; and antennae as always perfectly attuned, Mr Bongo did just what they did with Surprise Chef – stepped in knowing the album deserved a worldwide audience. You lucky people.

The Pro-Teens, as visually imagined by Libby Cliqüe-Baitè and bestfootforward

The title track plays us on ramshackle drums, a wonked incantation of the title line, and cherry-blossoms as a very fine slice of cinematic Japanese groove, sweeping on abstruse percussion and koto-like riffs; think Axelrod, think Schifrin. Now that’s the way to begin a record.

“No One Understands Me (I’m OG)” follows: it’s irresistibly groovy and lo-fi, anaesthetic dreamscape-odd, all whooshes, Sixties’ spy movie breaks and melodies, it shifts to a laidback, indie funk, suggests maybe the heroes’ arrival at the main scene of whatever action will unfold; and unfold we do through “Spray It, Don’t Say It”, on which snares, tuned right up to within an inch of their life, break crisp and rackety on the shores of classic blaxploitation synths, a proper loose-limbed head-nod break, perfect for windows down, shades on and a snarly six lanes of traffic; maybe culminating in a bonnet slide. Hell, why not?

There’s some cracking doodles in the Money Mark vein herein, music that glories in itself and its secretive conceptual quality; a certain sense that you’re so more than welcome to come join in, but that the soundscapes busy brewin’ are answerable to no one but themselves. “Convo” is way quirky – violin-led folk-funk, in a line; off-kilter, the bass keeps it spacey and meandering and the woodblocks and Hudson at the percussive tiller make sure it’s on course and tight. “Peppery Weapons” shuffles on a rushy bed of brushes, twangy double bass glory, Afro woodblock earthiness and a little French grand paysage accordion; hot jazz for a village boules match at which the nemesis unveils his dastardly plan. The barely 90 seconds of “Snooch Is Too Busy For This Shit” is immaculately across 110th street, the very best of fly incidental music.

“The The Pro-Teens Ruined My Life” screams some gutter-press headline in the conceptual film we’re scoring, and codas nicely as a pair with “Snooch Is Too Busy For This Shit” as a laidback slice of city-heat summer soundtrack funk, the very crispest of zizzing hi-hats keeping things swingin’; but “Ya Gotta Love This City” gets proper busy with a bass that’s pretty much the definition of fat, so rubbery and obscenely slack is it; the strings must be the size of ship’s cables. That boinging thrum underpins a classically wah-wah and drums chase scene busy funk, and colours it weird.

“I Hate Turbulence” keeps it in yer face, snow-white wing-collared shirts a-go-go for a perspiring skit that’s peppered with studio banter; whereas what’s possibly the first (but, I betcha, far from the last) song to be written about teen climate change activist “Greta Thunburg” has a spooky feel, a little Edda dell’Orso type otherworldly quality that unfolds in a more complex atmospheric place and diminishes into lonely drums, a down-at-heel private investigator’s theme.

A final brace of uncut, cinematic gemstones, “Elephant On The Wall” and “Slow Fast” lead us home; the first is runway funk, the glamour of the jet set made music, with some particularly fine acid guitar shimmer and organ heat. Track the twelfth does exactly what it promises, and shifts gear back and forth between a grandly valedictory riff and proper taut car chase breaks.

As with the other outfits on the Melbourne instrumental funk scene, there is an element of this music somehow being private, not quite fully available; you might catch it on the wind, hear it at a dunes party at which you’re at four social removes from the core groovers; it’s effortlessly cool, it’s having fun but it’s not holier than thou by any means. It doesn’t care about anything like that, it doesn’t have to try, it just has the essence; which, of course, is even cooler.

A nailed-on candidate for an all-back-to-mine kitchen groove sesh, if Lalo Schifrin or Morricone, if Surprise Chef or Mark’s Keyboard Repair or early James Taylor Quartet get your groove on, you should be making like a bee and buzzin’ over to Mr Bongo forthwith.

The Pro-Teens I Flip My Life Every Time I Fly will be released by Mr Bongo digitally, on CD and on LP on September 3rd and is available to pre-order now from the label shop and over at Bandcamp.

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