Grasscut – award-winning TV and film composer Andrew Phillips and his rambling mate Marcus O’Dair – are an electro-psychedelia act beyond compare. Well, in the sense that they hail from the electronica hotbed of, er, the Sussex countryside, anyway.
Their debut album 1 Inch / 1/2 Mile arrives shortly before Ninja Tune celebrates its 20th anniversary and, like label founders Coldcut, Grasscut are a leftfield duo whose genre-specific principles remained uncompromised throughout; though rarely to the detriment of the listener’s experience.
From discordantly anthemic album opener High Down – a crashing crescendo that channels a more introspective, slightly paranoid Grandaddy – 1 Inch / 1/2 Mile is a transcendental journey in which myriad samples, glitches and resonant themes gasp to life as a coherent beast.
Old Machines, a stop-start melody that in many respects represents Grasscut’s most orthodox approach, dissolves from earshot to the sound of American property developers in discussion, fuelling the fire of the LP’s lynchpin theme.
Grasscut, you see, display a penchant for a cast of disparate voices, and 1 Inch / 1/2 Mile seems to have ambitions to be the result of a time travelling surveillance project; fuzzy voice recordings augment Phillips’ reined-in vocal style and bring with them the evocative imagery of their source.
The Tin Man, for instance, crafts a languid progression over which the scratchy vocals of early 20th Century tenor Count John McCormack contribute to an utterly beautiful and haunting soundscape.
1946, similarly, is formed of a woman’s tinny reminisces of post-war Britain set to a shimmering drone that blossoms into assertive strings – a cute effect, but one that borders on being ever so slightly hammy – and album closer In Her Pride exhibits a singing Victorian poet over maudlin chords, channelling the resonance of forgotten heartache.
Not all tracks, however, delve so deeply into the eavesdropping modus operandi: the album’s bedrock, Muppet, while still deeply enmeshed with incongruent, interjecting voices, is the sort of glitchy pneumatic you’d expect of Prefuse 73; all Nintendo bleeps and superficially weird phrases that ultimately slot together in a riotous climax.
The Door In The Wall, too, allows Phillips greater breathing space for his own vocal expression, and though its comparatively organic composition is compromised somewhat – old habits dying hard – it’s a standout track in the sense that it boasts the album’s most melodically cohesive passages.
Successive track Passing, while initially raising suspicions that Grasscut are simply dressing up the same idea in different garb, is redeemed by a trip-hop beat and jarring electro shrieks that vigorously grab attention. The shade to the light, however, is an impression that 1 Inch / 1/2 Mile could possibly have done with a touch more of such methods.
Nevertheless, Phillips and O’Dair ought to be proud of the album they have on their hands: it is an escapist LP that trades on the simplicity of its ideas, and a deftness of touch that, while far from perfect, more often than not affords constituent parts to carry the nuance of another time and place.