Worry sets in when I’m sent an album by a band I know nothing about; I become most anxious about not representing the band appropriately when I review the release. Often it is even worse when there is little to read up on the band that’s either for or against them, because you don’t really know what you’re getting into (big band vs. indie) and the wind (it’s hard to tell with what Patrick Wolf calls “the fickle press”) doesn’t seem to be blowing one way or another.
This is just as well, since the band in question, Apparatjik, had live appearances last year – including superimposing images of themselves on the side of a cube at an art installation in Berlin – that seem to be downplaying who exactly is in the band and instead embracing their oneness in their…weirdness. Which all seems a bit strange, given the principals, who need no introduction, as they’ve all been involved with megagroups of current or at least recent memory: – Magne Furuholmen of the now defunct a-ha; Guy Berryman, bassist for Coldplay; Jonas Bjerre of Mew; and producer Martin Terefe (who’s worked with the likes of Jason Mraz and KT Tunstall).
Their latest album length effort, ‘Square Peg in a Round Hole’, surprised me a lot– pleasantly, I might add – with its intriguing combination of electronic and urban elements. That said, this is an ‘experimental’ record in the sense that there are some unusual things at work here too, so don’t expect a tune by Apparatjik appearing on Radio1 anytime soon. I mean, come on, who writes a song called ‘(Don’t Eat the Whole) Banana’, expecting us to keep a straight face? (If you’re wondering, Bjerre is using some kind of autotune function on his voice, which makes the song all the more ridiculous. Or experimental, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.)
The kookiness continues with ‘Gzmo’, with the effects taking centre stage rather than the robotic words proferred, and ‘Combat Disco Music’, which has a chorus sounding exactly as the title suggests: the Village People in the military (“whoo, ha! / whoo, ha!) Yet throughout, it’s a mix of dance, hip hop and new wave on show here in ‘Square Peg in a Round Hole’. It sounds futuristic, and it’s probably not your cup of tea if standard rock ‘n’ roll is your usual poison. Just saying.
‘Do It Myself’ featuring Pharrell Williams (masquerading on this album as ‘Auto Goon’) comes across as a wonky, Gorillaz-styled jam and deserves to see the light of day. (Take back that comment I said earlier about this not having a chance with Radio1…) Opening track ‘Time Police’ (live video from Berlin below) also gets the Midas touch from Williams; it’s not as inherently catchy as ‘Do It Myself’ – it’s more of a new wave-y, slightly new age-y track with a hip hoppy poppy lyric – but still, a major surprise.
Surprises continue with tracks like ‘Cervux Sequential’, in which Berryman takes the vocals but the surprise are synthesised baby voices; ‘Blastlocket’, sounding like a Nintendo game overlaid on top of a late ‘80s slow jam; and ‘Your Voice Needs Subtitles’, where a mesmerising beat, piano chords, and the stretched vocals lead to a dream. So it’s disappointing to hear tracks like ‘Signs of Waking Up’ and ‘Superpositions’ (despite having gorgeous a capella harmonies), which sound like a completely different band. A better representation is ‘Tell the Babes’ , a dance anthem standout clearly pointing out that the more overt – and dare I say it, even the weird – dance numbers are where this band shines.
‘Square Peg in a Round Hole’ by Apparatjik is available now from Metamerge. They have an appropriately weird Web site that reports on future gigs but the one that I’m aware of – since I’m on their festival mailing list – is an appearance at Roskilde, and the band have already requested that they want people’s faces and have invited people onstage with them.