September 1997 – EP reviews – The Shrubbies’ ‘The Shrubbies’ (“bouncing up and down on a deep springy pile of autumn leaves”)

24 Sep

The Shrubbies: 'The Shrubbies' EP

The Shrubbies: ‘The Shrubbies’ EP

Should I name a shrub? Probably a blackberry bush on this occasion. Convoluted, stubborn, furnished with tricky little thorns so that you have to be careful how you approach it… but also blessed with tangy little knots of piquant fruit which make the effort and the odd scratch worthwhile.

The Shrubbies are yet another branch of the Cardiacs family tree. Here, Sharron Saddington and Craig Fortnam (both of whom have done time in Lake of Puppies, William D. Drake‘s genteel “acoustiCardiacs” band) are joined by two bona fide ex-Cardiacs, Dominic Luckman and Sarah Smith. Unsurprisingly, the influence of Cardiacs (or their original acoustic Sea Nymphs alter-ego) has left its mark on the music. Here are four complex and leaping songs, swinging through an adventure playground of sophisticated eccentric harmony based around Craig’s dextrous gut-strung acoustic guitars and Sharron’s fluffy chirrup – although it’s Sarah’s sax and keyboard riffs, as fat and jolly as laughing Buddhas, that you tend to remember.


 
But Cardiacs music is clenched, neurotic, compulsively driven. Listening to the Shrubbies is much more of a relaxing activity: more like bouncing up and down on a deep springy pile of autumn leaves. This is sort of like The Sundays might sound if Kevin Ayers was in the driving seat: innocent but wise as a tuned-in child listening to the wind, with a dollop of Caravan/Canterbury breeziness stirred in alongside a seasoning of Early Music and kitchen-folk singalong. It reminds me of nothing so much, though, as great lost London hopes The Wise Wound, some of whose visionary acoustic/psychedelic outlook they share.



 
Excepting the surreal, Barrett-ised Sabled Fur, these songs tap directly into nature, caught up in the passage of seasons (Carefree Clothes) while mainlining jumpy sap for hormones, and fascinated by the moment (Perfect Present, with its mariachi keyboards and sax). Most of all, they’re driven by the sheer animal spark of life, in particular on the intricate spiny Body Cried Alive with its dark stretchy Mellotron riffs and epiphany of survival: “spiral down to the ground / like a seed that flies through the air / and affix myself to the ground / crying I am alive! alive!


 
Small and marvellous; like the delicious shudder in the daylight when the sun and the clouds do their dance-of-the-seven-veils thing.

The Shrubbies: ‘The Shrubbies’
Merlin Audio, MER97028CD (no barcode)
CD-only EP
Released: 20th September 1997

Get it from: (2020 update – original EP is best picked up second-hand; all tracks reappeared on The Shrubbies’ lone 1999 album ‘Memphis in Texas’, from which all of the soundclips here are taken and which you can still download or order from Bandcamp).
The Shrubbies online:
MySpace Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Amazon Music
 

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