Yet another folktronic artist wishes it to be known that he’s not making that stuff anymore.
James Rutledge inaugurated the Melodic label with a vinyl release as Pedro some years ago, and put out a superlative self-titled album that was one of the pinnacles of the folktronica “genre” (such as it is/was). The new album’s been a long time coming, although we had Early Pedro to tide us over, collecting his post-rock beginnings and the very fine collaboration with Kathryn Williams, reminiscent of Beaumont Hannant’s work with Lida Husik in the ’90s given a glitchy overhaul.
It’s hard not to use the word “reminiscent” with Pedro, and no doubt avoiding the folktronica tag is probably all about not being called “just another Four Tet”. It’s a bit strange (and no doubt coincidental) then that with the energetic hip-hop/breakbeat and freak-folk that adorns most of this album Pedro has managed to take much the same trajectory as Four Tet took out of his own folktronic territory. Rutledge is following his own musical tastes and influences, and it’s a shame that it hasn’t quite saved him from “sounds like”. Bright jazzy samples and bouncy hip-hop beats mean that this album fits the mould of his new home at Mush Records a little more perfectly than one might wish considering his earlier efforts. Presumably “reminiscent of Prefuse 73” will get quite a look-in now too (mostly better than, to these ears).
That said, this is really lovely stuff. There’s a lot to take in over the album’s length, and it’s got plenty of the detailed production that was required in successful folktronica. The beats are upbeat and compelling, and if the layered saxophones get a bit much for me sometimes, there are also some great touches like the reversed time stretched melodies in the earlier part of “Spool”.
It’s really the horns that make this album something else, and if jazzy freaky saxophones, ’70s jazz flutes and the ubiquitous xylophone are more your thing than they are mine, you’ll probably want to drop everything and grab this album. I wish they were more mine too, but as it is I’m nostalgic for the pianos, orchestral bits and generally more subdued feel of the earlier Pedro (although I do dig that drum programming!)
There’s some of that here – like the Múm-like ‘Nothing But Pebbles’, marred by unnecessary glissando-ing analogue synths. I find myself gravitating more to tracks like the very Four Tet-like ‘Hope Is A Happiness’, nice strings and head-nodding beat, or the beautiful title track. The Four Tet comparisons might also be the monkey on the back of a track like ‘Vitamins’, which could easily come from Everything Ecstatic, but again the horns and woodwind take it in a slightly different direction. It’s worth remembering that the album’s a kind of dream narrative, because the arrangements here are deliberately off-kilter, contrasting with the almost techno impetus of the drumming. There’s nothing that new here, which is a shame considering that the Pedro album was such a highlight, but it’s extremely well done and will certainly earn Pedro many deserved fans.