By Little Fish
Little Fish's debut album is a mixed affair, consisting of quirky indie rock 'n roll that oozes laidback cool, and barebones, repetitive songs that feel constrained by Little Fish's two-member head count.
If you're familiar with previous singles 'Whiplash' and 'Am I Crazy?' then these are as good as it gets, and serve to highlight just how much of a gap there is between the singles, and 90% of the album-only numbers. 'Am I Crazy?' revels in frontwoman Juju's talent for sounding ever so slightly demented and, backed up by some meaty tribal drums and a thick glug of bass, 'Am I Crazy?' becomes a gloriously wicked indie rock 'n roll anthem. The off-kilter country stomp of 'Whiplash' is even better, and is awash with Juju's gleefully unhinged vocals. Listening to her squealing and shouting her way through 'Whiplash' with reckless abandon, is guaranteed to slap a big silly grin on your face.
It's Juju's voice that gives both of these songs their sparkle, but she really takes it to the next level on the intro for 'Hallelujah.' The opening minute seems to have been designed to squeeze every last drop of character from her voice, and she relishes the challenge, unleashing a ragged, bluesy holler that ranges from sweet, lilting high notes to reverberating, oddly gender-less lows. When combined with her habit of juddering out the longer words, her vocal performance is arresting. Thankfully, once we get into 'Hallelujah' proper, it lives up to expectations, snowballing into a jazzy shambles where the untidy music perfectly compliments Juju's jigging vocals.
'Die Young' has an air of the exotic about it, with tribal drumbeats and Juju's possessed vocal stylings, which Little Fish then jam together with the very traditional rock 'n roll hang-ups of crunching bass and jagged riffs. The unsettling exotica and bass-soaked rock make an uneasy combo, but it's this tension that'll draw you into 'Die Young's skewed world.
'Bang! Bang!' is the sole lively Little Fish song that falls just short of the mark. Building from a scattering of slide guitar into a whirl of clap-along beats, it briefly scores a direct hit with a foot-stamping slab of urgent indie rock, before over-complicating things and losing its way towards the end. A quirky song, but the slow beginning and less-than-inspiring ending, means it is eclipsed by the rest of the album.
Although they won't have you sitting up and paying attention like 'Am I Crazy,' 'Whiplash' 'Hallelujah' and 'Die Young,' the songs 'Darling Dear,' 'Sweat N Shiver' and 'Baffled and Beat' keep the momentum going.
Everything about album-opener 'Darling Dear' is stylish. From the lounging, angular guitars, to Juju's loose and characterful style, to the White Stripes-esque drumbeats, Little Fish make it sound easy to be this cool. 'Sweat N Shiver' features the jogging drumbeats Little Fish fall back on for almost every up-tempo song, but if ain't broke, then don't fix it - those jumping drumlines will get even the most jaded listener tapping their feet. The chorus is a scant three words long, but once again Juju's voice saves the day, as she packs more character into that one-line-long chorus, than many vocalists manage in an entire song. Every syllable is a big, fat hook.
The intro of title track 'Baffled and Beat' takes a more sedate route to rockstar cool, as Juju drapes her vocals over the unhurried stretch and recoil of blissed-out slide guitar. It's a sublime opening but the main body of 'Baffled and Beat' is a worthy substitute, treating us to some supercharged drumrolls and starburst strumming that, together, sounds like one endless stream of handclaps.
The major downside to this album, is that a good portion is clogged up with slower numbers, and it's here, without the distraction of snappy drum-work, that you really begin to feel the musical constraints of being a duo. Juju also tones it down for these songs and, although she can turn out a convincing straight-faced performance, it's nowhere near as much fun as when she's acting the loon. There's nothing wrong with her vocal performance on 'Heroin Dance' - it's soulful and earnest - but the music and the lyrical content fail to put that final, emotional twist on the song, and it ends up sounding flat. 'You, Me & The TV' isn't quite as sedate, but its laidback, bluesy swing falls foul of the pitfall lurking in the wings for every two-member band: it lacks variety. The same would be true for the piano-led trudge of 'Luck's Run Out,' if it wasn't for Juju, who tries out a ragged, reedy falsetto on the chorus that proves to be utterly infectious. A joyless piano number, saved by one great vocal hook.
However, perseverance pays off and after many misses, Little Fish finally get the slow number spot-on, with album-closer 'Sorry State.' Although it's a steady burner, the perfectly-put together combo of acoustic sputtering and kooky drumbeats is interesting enough to survive the measured pace.
For a band who can pen such fiercely unique anthems as 'Whiplash' and 'Die Young,' this album features a disappointing number of pretty-but-forgettable slow numbers, and songs that feel restricted by Little Fish's status as a duo. At its best ('Am I Crazy,' 'Whiplash' 'Hallelujah' and 'Die Young,') this album is quirky indie rock 'n roll, spearheaded by a vocalist with a unique voice and singing style. However, 'Baffled and Beat' certainly isn't a case of all killer, no filler.