A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Albums made by DJs are always an interesting proposition. The lines between samples and productions are often unclear, leaving us to wonder what in the hell is going on. On top of that, we expect DJs to have extra-human understandings of beat, mood and flow, being used to guiding the dancefloors. When they come out with their own productions, we expect them to be hyper-advanced, with the best possible tastes.
Both of these cases are true in the case of Friendly Bacteria, Mr. Scruff‘s first album in 6 years.
Most of Friendly Bacteria sticks close to post-FlyLo head-nodding beats, cut-up funky breaks and late ’90s Jazzanova/Herbalizer trip-hop, with the occasional guest vocalist, colorful synth squiggles, and modern day Library classic, and it might seem that this was tailor made for a late night spot on Adult Swim (is that still a thing?), it’s worth noting that Andy Carthy has been making Mr. Scruff music since 1997, and we are left to speculate the effect that Carthy, and the Ninja Tune label in general, have had on the post-everything situation.
In fact, there are moments on friendly bacteria that remind me of a less paranoid and misanthropic Lorn or a less drug-addled and emotionally manipulative Kraddy/Glitch Mob. Don’t get us wrong, we love all of those things, in their own way, but we also appreciate subtlety and craftsmanship.
Listening to Friendly Bacteria has us re-considering the acid jazz/nu-breaks world, which is just in the nick of time. While there shouldn’t be anything inherently wrong with someone sampling the best stand-up bass licks, bongo breaks, and solo heads, too often (as in, most of the time), electronic jazz ends up being smooth groove gobshite, in one of the most disappointing and missed opportunities of all genres.
Instead, Mr. Scruff is living up to the potential, either cherrypicking the best grooves from his record collection, or sequencing his own beats seamlessly, showing himself to be a deft and detailed producer. The feeling you are left with is a man who loves his records, who knows all the best parts and sings along. And when you are left with all the best parts of all the best songs, shouldn’t you have the best songs?
Andy Carthy reminds us there is nothing wrong with rocking out to a house groove. In losing yrself in Easy Listening records. In exulting in a disco beat. That there is a majesty in escapism, in being young, and feeling like you’re going to live forever.
Friendly Bacteria is right in line with the other new release we just posted about, the new Plaid record. They both feature primarily color synth lines, which sound like Kandinsky paintings brought to life. Both have drums dusted with a light grit of circuitry. Both are upbeat, lighthearted, ebullient, and perfectly encapsulate the coming summer.
Mr. Scruff makes Herb Alpert records cool again. He gives us hope there is still life in sampling acoustic guitars. It is still unclear how much is sampled and how much is recorded, and we don’t give much of a damn. It’s put together flawlessly, and sounds awesome. Andy Carthy is quite possibly the only man who could make me listen to anything approximating ‘nu-jazz’, and he gives us hope there is life in the sampled groove yet.