This is a review of "Half Finished Horse" recorded by The Bundesrats. The review was written by Jessica Thornsby in 2009.
'Half Finished Horse,' the debut EP from Wakefield's The Bundesrats, takes the oompa-oompa, carnival-esque beats of Madness, and puts them together with jaunty, ska-punk keyboard refrains, and a frontman who seems to think he's providing the vocals to an opera. It may sound like a musical nightmare, but it's actually amazingly good fun.
EP opener 'Whipper Snapper' is the strongest of the five tracks. It gives you plenty to smile about, with rollicking keyboards and drums, and frontman Nathan Smith's unique vocals. Not only does he ramble out nonsensical lyrics that Madness would be proud of, but he can belt out those bass notes with ease. Occasionally, he even drops down into full-on, sonorous warbling that really wouldn't sound out of place on an opera song. It puts the final, bizarre twist on this joyously skank-able, Madness-influenced tune.
The choruses bring in the scuzzed-up guitars, which pulse along to those romping carnival beats, before opening into a long, flatly ringing note that acts as a killer hook, making for a chorus that's great, catchy fun.
And, just when you thought 'Whipper Snapper' couldn't get anymore ingeniously eccentric, it does, with a bridge-section blast of scuzzy guitars and the track's most boomingly operatic vocals. On the negative side, towards the end of this section Smith's heavy, operatic singing does go on a bit. However, it's easy to forgive The Bundesrats this minor blip, when they pitch straight from Smith's singing, into a keyboard-studded guitar rush that's both invigorating, and a refreshing change from songs that rely solely on horns and trumpets to get that 'ska' element across.
'Whipper Snapper's hell-raising partner in crime, 'Response,' also has that Madness-inspired beat, thanks to a combination of springing drums, piping keys and Smith's rambled delivery style and wilfully dumb lyrics ("words are foreplay/forwarded into wordplay.") 'Whipper Snapper' and 'Response' are guaranteed party starters.
Unfortunately, the rest of the EP can't live up to these two songs. 'Why Do You Have To Know?' is, frustratingly, one of those tracks that doesn't quite come together, despite boasting possibly the most cheerful keyboard refrain ever devised.
'Why Do You Have To Know?' occasionally has a lazy, Mediterranean groove, where those slide-guitar, hitching riffs and Pepper-like keys come together, and The Bundesrats carnival gains a more blissed-out edge. It's a solid base, but The Bundesrats then layer on the scuzzy guitars and messy, skittering drumbeats, which both feel at odds with 'Why Do You Have To Know?'s chilled-out beginnings.
'Why Do You Have To Know?' starts off with promising, Med-inspired rhythms, but then gets overcomplicated. Chances are, you'll come away with no clear idea of how the final few minutes 'go.'
The Bundesrats eschew much of their ska leanings, for the jangly, relatively straightforward rock of 'Don't.' It isn't half as fun as 'Whipper Snapper' and 'Response,' although Smith belting out "you can't kick me in the groin" like a trained opera singer, can't fail to raise a smile. The scuzzed-up choruses are particularly conventional and, while that may make for easier listening, it isn't as infectious as when The Bundesrats pull their Madness-does-ska-punk act. The verses go someway towards recapturing the loopy spirit of 'Whipper Snapper' and 'Response,' with jazzily shunting guitars and bouncing drumbeats, but you'll be left wishing the whole of 'Don't' could have sounded like this.
EP-closer, 'Hush It!' is a complete curveball, as The Bundesrats go for a more poised, jazz-club stomp, and pile on the drama. Smith alternates between slickly cool jazz vocals, and a punkish snarl, gnashing "hush it! / hush it!" on the chorus. Like practically everything on this EP, it shouldn't work as well as it does.
The slowly winding verses are pure, laidback cool, as guitars waft across carefully dolled-out drumbeats and a soft background jangle. 'Hush it!' is an exciting new side to the band, but it isn't completely unrecognisable, as the choruses bring in the jigging keys and spring-heeled drumbeats.
This EP's main selling point is, of course, Smith's voice, which really does need to be heard to be believed. His resonating vocals turn the good-times tunes 'Whipper Snapper' and 'Response' into operatic-tinged ska anthems, and his slightly deranged delivery style, emphasises the Madness-aping beats that The Bundesrats do so well. 'Hush It!' hints at a more restrained and brooding side to the band that really harnesses the dramatic potential of Smith's voice, and hopefully this darker sound isn't a one off and will crop up on future releases. 'Don't' and 'Why Do You Have To Know?' miss the spot slightly but, on the whole, this just might be the most original and exciting ska band you'll hear all year.