Slug is Ian Black, a stalwart of the music scene in the north east of England for the past decade who, most notably, plays bass in Field Music’s touring band. For Ripe, the first album released under the Slug name, Field Music’s Peter and David Brewis lent Black their studio and performed production and instrumentation duties.
Slug, then, is the latest product of a remarkably fecund music scene based around the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland. Over the past 10 years, the north east has produced a succession of mostly excellent albums from Maxïmo Park, The Futureheads, Field Music, Peter and David Brewis’s respective side projects The Week That Was and School Of Language – not to mention last year’s collaboration between Peter Brewis and Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith. These albums may not have a Motown-esque signature sound, but they all share a commitment to melody and intelligence and a resistance to musical cliché.
Ripe by Slug maintains the region’s good work. Even if one weren’t aware of the album’s back story, its resemblance to Field Music would be immediately striking. The Brewis brothers’ trademark clean, brittle production is present and correct, as is their confident, often funky instrumentation.
But whereas Field Music’s albums sound like the product of painstaking attention to detail, their music of their protégé is far more freewheeling. Ripe sounds, in the best possible way, like it was born out of some very productive dicking around. Unlikely instruments and references are thrown together and, more often than not, they work. Throughout, it’s not always clear what is making each mind-bending squelch and shriek, but it’s an enjoyably perplexing listen.
The album begins with a brief, foreboding instrumental, Grimacing Mask, before we tumble into Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped In Plastic, a song as demented as its title. There are pummelling, John Bonham-style drums, a gigantic, boggle-eyed riff that sounds like it came from a Funkadelic record, a hysterical chorus and a marvellously proggy guitar solo.
Greasy Mind, Running To Get Past Your Heart and Kill Your Darlings share that track’s same sense of experimental mania. Yet Black is smart enough to realise that maintaining that level of hysteria across the whole album would prove exhausting for the listener. So other parts of Ripe resist the kitchen sink approach. Sha La La, with its cluttering percussion and menacing guitar part, represents Ripe and its least maximalist, and it’s no less effective for holding back. Eggs And Eyes’ melody recalls Al Green’s Here I Am (Come And Take Me), while Shake Your Loose Teeth has an appealing chicness.
Lyrically, Black’s penchant for non sequiturs and surrealist imagery might not make a lot of sense but they’re a good fit for the music. Only at the very end – on At Least Show That You Care’s bizarrely barked titular refrain – does the album’s experimentation become grating.
Ripe is yet another strong offering from the UK’s most collaborative and consistent regional music scenes.