Forever to be tainted with the “wrote the theme song for Grey’s Anatomy” brush, Psapp return with their fourth album after a four year lay off, no doubt hoping that perhaps everyone had forgotten that they were responsible and that there might be some other way of defining their band. The fact that they put David Shrigley’s art to music for example, or pelted their audiences with toy cats. Both worthy of note, but that Grey’s Anatomy thing is going to stick for ever more.
It’s a shame, but at least the association will have convinced a fair few people to check out a band that might ordinarily be well off the radar. Psapp have quite an unconventional approach to their music, creating songs using toy instruments (leading to the appalling tag of toytronica), milk heavy cows, the writhing of maggots and homemade instruments (made of bones, naturally). Whilst the synthesis of their songs might be a little odd, the tunes themselves are not as peculiar as might be expected; if anything, they’re rather conventional and bordering on pop immediacy.
The album kicks off with Life Hums, a collection of what appear to be field recordings (including the milky bovine honking). It’s a push to describe it as experimental or even interesting. As an intro, it rather nails the band’s colours to the mast, but is hardly indicative of what follows.
Far more representative is Wet Salt’s jaunty percussion and simplistic melodies which combine to create a kind of ramshackle nursery rhyme steeped in regret as Galia Durant begs “don’t let it be over, now I’m getting closer”. It’s basic, but effective. The Cruel, The Kind, The Bad meanwhile rumbles along like a cartoon version of Tom Waits put through Danny Elfman’s gothic grinder. In The Black deals in the kind of imagery that populates the films Elfman provides scores for. It might sound as if it’s being played out on a knackered musical box, but it also possesses Durant’s most subtle and confident performances on the album. Sometimes she can seem a little lacking, either terminally detached or lacking in range, but here, she plays to her strengths by keeping it simple, whimsical and delightfully light. Darkly tinged pop is something of a feature of the album and it be found on many of the songs here. The Well And The Wall borrows from Oranges And Lemons for the rhythmical meter lyrics like “here comes a candle to light your way, here comes a bell to ring at your grave” and marries them to woozy musical motifs.
Carim Clasmann’s programming and musical nous comes into its own on Everything Belongs To The Sun, a rampant tribal thrum that is a perfect exercise in catch/release dynamics. It twists and turns lurching from a celebratory shamanic dance to a threatening stomp at will. Your Hot Knife meanwhile finds Clasmann and Durant combining perfectly on a song that rolls along like smooth jazz on the rocks and somehow manages to sound not unlike Sneaker Pimps.
Yet whilst What Makes Us Glow is an interesting album it doesn’t have enough depth to sustain repeated listens. The instrumentation and ideas are clever – In And Out for example uses samples of the duo breathing – but the hooks are not always deep enough for a band flirting with pop sensibilities. In failing to commit to either the pop or experimental strands that populate their work, they’re left in something of a no-man’s land. But when it clicks, such as on In The Black, it’s clear they’re really onto something.