Twenty years into their career, Cornershop certainly don’t sound like the same band that was responsible for Brimful Of Asha – arguably one of the oddball songs that defined ’90s alternative music. On their eighth album, And The Double-O Groove Of, the now duo mash up hip-hop beats, samples and the fluid, Punjabi folk vocal stylings of newcomer Bubbley Kaur for something unique and surreal. It’s an album that fits somewhere between Indian folk and groovy funk. Strange indeed, but wryly brilliant in its off-kilter pop song craft.
In its own way it’s brilliant, but given Cornershop’s previous benchmarks of success, there’s certainly something missing. First of all, front man Tjinder Singh isn’t singing. Secondly, he’s not playing guitar (well, he is from time to time, but not really). In the place of all that mid-’90s alternative hipness, the beats take centre stage, followed closely by funky horns, groovy bass lines and lilting sitar.
There are many layers at play here, but there always have been with Cornershop. Even Brimful Of Asha (which featured the classic line, “Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow”) was a multifaceted and largely political oddity, mashing up ideas about classic albums on vinyl atop sentiments of anger toward unfair portrayals in Indian cinema while paying homage to Bollywood legend Asha Bhosle.
Cornershop has been planning this album – a long-form collaboration with Bubbley Kaur – since she was featured on their double single Topknot and Natch in 2004. Both songs are included here, and they certainly number among the album’s standout tracks. Since 2004, though, the band has been raising money for the album, and preorders from fans via PledgeMusic have a lot to do with what made the final product possible.
After a few listens, And The Double-O Groove Of sinks into the listener’s subconscious and starts making sense in its bizarre vocabulary. Its disparate parts – here a sitar, there a warbling synth, there again a dusty, funky horn riff – begin meshing together. And over the top of all of it, Kaur’s vocals, sung entirely in Punjabi, lilt (there’s that word again, but it’s really the best way to describe them) and writhe, creating an encompassing portrait of post-modern globe-hopping at its mixed-up finest.
Double Decker Eyelashes, all slow grooves, bass and harpsicord, feels like a lost Motown hit from an alternate reality. The Biro Pen is a smashing space jam, thick with plunking piano and staccato drum hits. Supercomputed is hypnotic and percussive, juxtaposing a heavy bass walkup and ’70s horn stabs with bongos and a looped drum groove.
Even in its global reach, it would be unfair to label this as “world music”. Somehow, it manages to smack of pop music hallmarks, feeling like something that could soundtrack an avant-garde police procedural television programme. In short, it’s music that could well reach a popular audience if any popular audience would take the time to embrace it. As things stand though, And The Double-O Groove Of will most likely not make a dent in the overall English-speaking musical landscape of 2011 outside the niche group of ravenous fans who helped fund it. And, really, that’s a damn shame.