Vanilla Eyes

Last heard from The Slate Pipe Banjo Draggers with their 2016 cassette Sedimenters, and they’re now here today with new album Eye Songs 2019. This is a digital release also available as a cassette, and the cassette version hews closely to the “recycle everything” principle by using reclaimed tapes and reclaimed plastic cases; the audio is taped over existing musicassettes, and the edition is random that you never know what colour (or size) case you might be purchasing. In a time when “single-use plastic” is recognised as the latest threat to the environment, we can only welcome such principled manufacturing strategies.

The music is also great. Andy Rowe may or may not be the only member of this underground UK combo, and he makes a virtue out of a rugged, home-made production technique espousing a very libertarian, anything-goes spontaneity and freedom of experimentation. Compared to previous entries in the catalogue, Eye Songs 2019 does make extensive use of the human voice, and four guest contributors are mentioned (though not named) as sources for these vocal elements. They are fairly demented vocals, ranging from surreal narrative recits to slowed-down mumblings, and something approaching singing…I get the sense the vocal “track” is just one more element for Rowe to experiment with, as he assembles layers and elements with a rather wild-eyed fiendish glee. One of the signature sounds of the Draggers is the “loping” rhythms which may be the result of using tape loops, or mismatching rhythm section parts, or both. In that regard, we’re invited to note the use of the “berimbau” on this album, an instrument which is one of those gourd-and-string devices quite prominent in Africa, although it seems Andy got his berimbau from Brazil. Quite often the metal string of your basic berimbau is taken from disused automobile tyres, yet another instance of the “reclaiming” principle. Hear its relentless plucks – played in a manner that verges on spastic – on ‘Brinker Dearers’, and let your dancing shoes get tangled into knots by the ingenious wrong-footing approach of this cut.

My preference here is for the crazy and noisy pieces such as ‘The Crushings’, a piece that’s by turns hilarious and threatening with its nightmarish moments of surprising sound assembled in a less-than-logical fashion, though you may like a track such as ‘Special Weapons’, which is as close as the Draggers get to a pop song; the guest vocalist turns in an R&B flavoured performance of obscure lyrics on top of a highly unconventional beat. It’s the sort of subversive thing you’d love to hear smuggled into dancefloor or radio culture in some way. From 4th April 2019.