Acoustic Ladyland - Skinny Grin
It seems commonplace really, just how many aspiring artists try to convince people that their sound attempts to blend pretty much every last element of their – excuse any unwanted scepticism – suspiciously desert-sized range of influences. The result: try-hard baloney that may prompt one’s eyeballs to roll as far back as needed to bring back any memories of people without this fixation to be ‘out there’.
Forgettable attempts at genius aside, there must be said a select group of experimentalists who would hold an opposing argument with fair competence. The Kid A/Amnesiac phenomenon prompted Noel Gallagher to label Radiohead (positively or not) as Space Jazz; a generic description as intriguingly luscious as the material it was assigned to. More recently Mars Volta’s example of Jazz Metal will often tick all the right boxes in terms of realising the scale of the challenge. Following suit is 2005 BBC Jazz Award winners Acoustic Ladyland, who released their second album, Skinny Grin, on November 27, and restarted their very own journey within the jazz/rock crossover which continues to fascinate.
Following on from the impressive 2005 debut effort, Last Chance Disco, Skinny Grin is a simply mind-boggling display of adrenaline-fuelled musicianship. Never failing to demonstrate AL’s profound eclecticism, it successfully concocts an encyclopaedia of dream-like images into the human psyche you thought only blue cheese was capable of doing. If, during the first minute of opening track Road of Bones, you can picture Kurt Cobain dancing with Chopin at a Sicilian wedding where Portishead are playing, then there really are no limits. As Skinny glides through 13 tracks, examples are set by the transition between the brash nympho-ska discords of 'New Me' to the ethereal intensity of 'Red Sky'; it possesses the quality of a preying eagle – graceful, yet with a brutal predatory instinct. The stereotypically hipsterist 'Cuts and Lies' (featuring Coco Electrik on vocals), evolves from a pointy funk number into a transcending engagement between a potent and hearty piano backing and a sax riff as contagious as herpes, whereas Glass Agenda (plus several other tracks) shows Seb Rochford bragging his drumming ability to the extent of near-subliminal. It remains astonishing how so many different musical tangents have been condensed into such a well-trimmed program, achieving almost flawlessness.
Perhaps a telling sign of a strong relation to Skinny Grin’s statement is the portrait of the innovative Russian solo dancer, Alexander Sakharoff, glaring from the album sleeve with the very same intensity heard in the music. When explaining his own artistic intentions, Sakharoff said, “Nothing less than the states of the soul, the impressions, the sensations lived by the composer and transposed to the sound with the help of its art”. Pretentious maybe, vague yes, so interpret as you wish. Yet when traveling through the mosaic of influences on Skinny Grin, the musical minds of Acoustic Ladyland were surely impressionable, and the raw performances without doubt from the soul. A late contribution to music for 2006, and it should certainly be appreciated as one of the best.