I love trying to second guess an album’s artwork and title. More often than not it is obvious; indie bands give themselves away with either their retro-nineties look or their ultr-modern complicated hair and black designer rock wear. Pop singers pout at you from the covers, metal bands have indecipherable logos and track titles that amount to pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook. But I look at the anguished scream pictured on this cover and the non-committal titles on J Crist’s latest release and I can’t fathom much out. And so, making a welcome change, I head into the music totally open-minded.
And I’m glad I did, as what greets me within is both unexpected and somewhat unique. J Crist seems to build songs out of almost nothing, often just a few simple beats and atmospheric electronica, and shards of splintered guitars doing just enough to define the edges of the music rather than dominate the space. And space is something that we need to discuss here, somehow it seems to be the most important element, a negative musical space that makes the actual instrumentation all the more powerful when the two push up against each other.
Day Off is a good example of the sonic palette being used here, starting off in understated territory, beguiling washes of music acting as the only platform for the inquiring lyrics. And then, as a beat slowly rises up it seamlessly transforms into a strange, gothic-infused underground dance track. One slight musical addition totally transforms the vibe of the track.
Unusual is just that, glitchy electronica, a pulsing bassline, and a hypnotic pedalling guitar sequence making for a strange and futuristic, dark and delicious, alt-pop track, Don’t Talk To Me is taught and claustrophobic, Home an almost mainstream electronica ballad and Lazy Days blending 60’s nostalgia with swathes of modern guitar work. Things round off with Free Advices, one of the most Bowie-esque songs never to come from his fair hand. In fact, if you told me that Scratch That was the missing piece that should make the Berlin Trilogy into a quartet, I wouldn’t put up too much of an argument.
So, where does Scratch That fit into the musical landscape? Who cares! This is music built of non-conformity, this is music that knows that musical genres exist, that is aware of changing fashions, that can see creative zeitgeists flitting by but which wants nothing to do with any of it. And the result is an album as odd as it is brilliant. But odd is good, right? Odd is non-conformist. Odd is creative. Odd is unique and uncategorizable. Odd is everything the best music aspires to be, or at least it should do if it knows what’s good for it!