Thursday, April 8, 2010

Album Review: The Redneck Manifesto - Friendship (Richter Collective)

It's been four years since the last Redneck Manifesto release (they had two EP's out that year) and a whole six years since their last LP, I Am Brazil. In the intervening time period, bass player Richie Egan (aka Jape) gained plenty of critical plaudits as well as winning The Choice Prize for 2008's Ritual, but the cult status of the Rednecks remains strong: their influence - be it musical or in their independent stance - is detectable in a whole range of domestic acts that have sprung up in the last few years, including Adebisi Shank, The Cast of Cheers, And So I Watch You From Afar and Enemies. The Rednecks have signed to the Richter Collective label for their much-anticipated new album Friendship, which is a neat way of bringing things full circle, considering that many of the acts signed to Richter plough a similar furrow.

With anticipation at fever-pitch levels, then, it's all the more impressive that comeback single 'Black Apple' didn't so much meet expectations as blow the collective minds of the already-faithful. Quite simply one of the tracks of the year so far, it packs a dazzling host of tempo changes, textures, intricate riffs and danceable grooves into its five-minute running time. It's the sound of masters at work, surveying a burgeoning post/math-rock scene and deciding to remind everyone that they were playing this game when Travis were flavour of the month.

Does the rest of Friendship live up to this high standard? It sure does. In comparison to I Am Brazil, the production here is cleaner and not as homespun: not always a good thing, but it is here, throwing all the instrumental dexterity into sharp relief and emphasising the light and shade. On tracks like 'Smile More' and 'Rubber Up', the group exhibit an almost-ADD approach to their craft, nailing a bass or guitar-led groove and running with it for a while, before stretching out, changing the tempo, setting some atmosphere, and then again hitting on a groove that sends the tune down another alley. It's as enjoyable as it is impressive, and that's why the Rednecks are so feted: it's a considerable achievement to make complex, multi-layered instrumental music that courses with vitality and demands your attention to the extent that Friendship does.

If it all sounds very jam-band-esque, then it's important to note also the electronic textures on tracks like the atmospheric 'Tomb of the Dudes', its cyclical bassline and insistent guitar picking building a hypnotic ambience that bleeds into an echo-drenched outro, or the masterfully layered, jazz-influenced 'Hex'.

Friendship is a stunning album and could well see The Redneck Manifesto make the transition from Irish cult heroes to breakout success over the pond, considering that some of their Richter labelmates have already being making a wave or two out on the fringes. The masters are back: long may they run.

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