'Dyslexic Mustard' by Electrik CustardReview
Some releases I write about are relatively easy to get my head around: others less so. A single is by its nature quicker to assimilate than an album. Therefore a double album is going to be more of a challenge still: thankfully one which seems rare these days.
I suppose in a way such a set in the form of ‘Dyslexic Mustard' (on Leamington's Beat Rebel Records label) by Electrik Custard has been slightly easier to process than it might otherwise have been as I've heard several tracks previously. As I noted when "LOUD" (which appears here) was released as a single & appeared on "Hot Music Live Presents Volume Six", I had for some years had the ambition to feature a track by the band but that chief Custard Ethan Shipley had frustrated me with his (commendable) perfectionism which meant that he seemed to find it hard to consider any track "finished" to his own high standards: in fact even when he handed me a copy, he added a rider that he was still working on mixes for some tracks before officially releasing the full album (a truncated version has been available for sale at festivals etc during the summer).
Consequently the album is in many ways a record of Ethan's musical journey over quite a few years with tracks of various vintages now being completed at last. This is emphasised by & indeed the whole collection is elevated by the fact that most tracks are collaborations with a staggering range of other artists he's worked with during this period.
Electrik Custard has in fact been a band: and an exceedingly good one with wonderful live performances and early on featured Swinging Cats (and Special AKA members) John Shipley & Paul Heskett (both of whom play on certain tracks). However in recent years, Ethan has reimagined it to be a loose collective involving himself & whoever he fancied working with: emphasising his philosophies of both collaborative working & community. To his great credit, this album absolutely reflects these values but also results in an incredibly diverse set of tracks which only increases the quality of ‘Dyslexic Mustard'.
With thanks to Ethan & his memory of who he worked with therefore, you can expect to hear the talent of the following (at the very least) on the album: Ethan Shipley (vocals, trumpet, keys, guitar, bass, melodica, production, banjo), John Shipley (guitar, keyboards & vocals), Jackie Shipley (vocals), Frank Ward (production, keyboards, drums), Leon Hall (vocals), Will Smith, Rosie Nobbs (saxophone & harp) Paul Heskett (saxophone), Charley 'H' Bembridge (drums), Clint Bruder (vocals), Sophie Greenwood (vocals), Kristina Carp Diem (vocals) Kaza Blanka (vocals), Stan Wright, Damien Doughty (guitar), Steve Goodyear (trombone), Emma Vague (vocals), Flora Timney (vocals), Alex Timney, (vocals), Holly Hayes (penny whistle, guitar & vocals), Kasia, Mina Minné (vocals), Willow Simone (vocals), Luke Spate (vocals), Rad Crow, Junior Gee (vocals & bass guitar), Shanade Morrow (vocals), Will Diamond (violin), Sophie Dunham (vocals), Polly Dunham (vocals), Chris the Poet (vocals), Ashleigh Burton (vocals), I-Lodica (vocals & melodica), Phyll The Gap (congas & djembe) Rio Hellyer (vocals), Cat McTigue (vocals), Justin Bygrave (vocals), Dan Bygrave (vocals), Jonathan Bygrave (vocals), Carlton Brodin (vocals & rhythm guitar), Dave Fullwood (trumpet), Nadia Raman (trombone), Neil Stuart (drums), Marac Kolodinski (bass), Marc Atkinson (vocals), Jay Smift (violin), Bruno (vocals), Mattia (guitar & bongo) , Bob Ranks (vocal) and Boomtown Chicken (clucking: yes really). Which is arguably something of a record for a record.
To be perfectly honest, this has been a really difficult album to review not just because of its multiplicity of songs but because each one required individual attention.
Ethan has helped as best he can by organising the whole into Parts One & Two, the first of which he described to me as "more of the party songs" and the latter as being "more of the ska and R&B" which people who have seen the live band are probably expecting: these two I suspect are the tracks which date back the furthest.
However that's merely the sound. Ethan is a bit of an iceberg in that his general public persona doesn't fully reflect his perfectionism as a musician but also his seriousness of purpose. Anyone familiar with the live performances no doubt expects a party (and to be fair if you don't listen to the words, that's what you get) but as songs like the previously issued single "Eye For An Eye" show, there are personal & cultural depths explored & that's why you need to listen keenly if you are to get the most out of ‘Dyslexic Mustard'.
Clearly "Eye For An Eye" & "LOUD" were ready for release long before the entirety of the album & so came out as singles, but I think that worked in their favour. Crowded amongst their many associate tracks, it would have been less easy to realise the message of "Eye For An Eye" in particular & I would thoroughly recommend you playing the album in instalments so you don't miss anything.
It's pretty overwhelming really: such is the musicianship & the changes in style & arrangement as each song features different talents & approaches, that you are constantly adjusting.. I suppose spreading the tracks over say 20 different EPs would be a bit of a lengthy affair, but it might help process them properly.
You really are going to have to play them all yourselves as detailed track reviews is going to make for an article no-one is going to want to read, but I may be able to offer a few insights into the cornucopia to get you started.
I started perversely with the second part on Ethan's suggestion as he felt it would more reflect my grasp of his music & for those joining on the basis of seeing them live, it's sound advice.
This section contains "Eye For An Eye" and I recommend that you refresh your memory of this song be revisiting my previous review rather than my repeating it here. It also has the wonderful "Greasy Spoon" which is credited to John Shipley and indeed you can hear connections to the 2 Tone and punk-pop sounds of the late 1970s/early 80s: Madness, Specials, Squeeze, Ian Dury etc in its witty & evocative social commentary over a pulsating "kiss me quick" arrangement. Great fun yet lovingly crafted & observed. This links nicely with the opening spoken word/rant by Chris the Poet which pretty much sets the scene.
"Where's John Barry" is another John Shipley tune (one Ethan first played me years ago) of a completely different ilk: a cool & perfectly realised mostly instrumental tribute to the great film composer: classy stuff & thank goodness it's finally reached the public arena.
"Excuse The Night" takes this more cosmopolitan look at music, in this case bluebeat and grooves away in a sort of Latin meets Egyptian manner (if that makes any sense) and like the track above would have fitted perfectly on a Swinging Cats album back in the day.
"His Name Is Dirt" is cut from similar cloth and it was roughly at this point when I had loved and marvelled at every track, I realised that I couldn't manage the whole album in one sitting as I kept on having to replay tracks purely for pleasure. The attention to detail is staggering & each track honed to perfection: this one being totally representative.
"Dr Rodriguez" may well be (I'm pretty sure it is) a tribute to the late great Rico and is a beautifully observed evocation of his trademark melancholic dub style (with touches maybe of Augustus Pablo in that regard too) yet not without a contemporary element courtesy of Emma Vague. Possibly the most affecting track? Could well be.
Turning to the first half of the album, we find "LOUD" once again and another collaboration with Mina Minné (among others), the superb "Isolation" which is another kettle of fish again. Ethan may see the second half as the R&B one but this is a prime example: a strange and twisted version to be sure but with blasts of gospel updated for the twenty first century & a confident dancefloor strut. I loved it (but I could say that about every track & that would get it a bit repetitive wouldn't it?)
"Crew" features Clint Bruder so we enter rap territory & revisit their many past collaborations. This however has an Electrik Custard feel of its own as Clint's words sit on top of an urgent yet somehow humorous backing which adds to our understanding of the lyrics. If you like bass guitar & tom toms you'll like this one. If you like this one, Brudez is back on the disconcerting but pinpoint accurate "Smart Phone Zombie" and others.
Leamington's Pips can be found on "Walking On The Moon" (yes it's the Sting song) reimagined as some bizarre hybrid (again an expression one might use of most of thee songs) which while utilising the three female voices of Shanade, Rio & Cat to great effect, begins in a sort of tribute to 1940s female harmony groups and then zooms into our own decade via a detour to Jamaica (possibly a tongue in cheek reference to Sting's own silly attempt at a Caribbean accent on the Police original? The musical references on the album are many & I doubt that I get more than a few of the jokes & tributes).
"Clown Farm" probably takes the prize for the weirdest track (and there are plenty of other contenders such as "Pyratrix Circus": I have no idea about what it might mean (it may mean no more than it appears to of course): if you noted the credit for "clucking" above, this is the one you'll find it on, in all its glory. I can honestly say I can't think of any other song I've heard with which I might compare it.
Oddly enough, "Super Magnetic" (which features Kristina Carpe Diem, Rob Banks, I-Lodica & Will Diamond) appears on the first tranche but sounds like it ought to be on the second: another exquisite ska piece with delightful melodic maybe there was more room for it where it is, or maybe Ethan just felt it fitted better: its position matters not a jot of course: it's a damn fine song.
So there you have it: comments on just a few of the many individual tracks to whet your appetite. Each one stand very much on its own considerable merits though. Taken as a whole, it's the grand statement & masterpiece that some of us always thought Ethan had in him. Even such revered double albums such as ‘The White Album' (and ironically John Lennon is sampled at length on "Absurd" wherein 1960s English whimsy meets hip hop) have duff tracks on them: it may be inevitable. ‘Dyslexic Custard' doesn't. It might have been a long time coming, but frankly it was well worth it.