The Year of The Rat – The Amber Bugs (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Genres eh? Who needs them? Certainly not The Amber Bugs. As their track record shows they are as happy funking up as they are rocking out, as deft with reggae grooves as they are jazz refrains, as comfortable delivering punk chops as they are weaving pop melodies. And best of all, they have a wicked sense of humour allowing them to blend wit and wisdom together, merge the profound with the profane, the everyday with the quite silly.  All of which means that when you dive headfirst into their latest 5-track collection, and you really should, which goes under the title of Year of the Rat, anything could happen.

The first thing to happen is the glorious opening salvo that is Make Money, Spend Money, Die a track which starts in the boy-girl vocal territory of The Beautiful South and then charges headlong into a punky chorus or two before wandering off through some ambient jazz meets Parisian cafe interludes before resolving. Not bad as mission statement go.

Hot on its heels Means, Motives, Opportunity is a brass-fuelled, white-knuckle ride (a brass knuckle ride?) through the realm of TV cop shows or perhaps real world naughtiness via some quirky pop breaks and Pricks 2020 updates the sound of the roaring 20’s …not this one, the last one. It mixes flapper dance grooves with eyebrow raising lyrical directness and plenty of mirthsome modern reference points; the Tory cabinet and the Anti-Vax movement amongst others. It feels like the theatre score for a Brett Easton Ellis adaption of a P.G. Wodehouse novel…and you know you’d watch that…right?

Via a neat little crooner style segue called…err…Segue…Rat vs Mole rounds things off with a nice alternative take on ska-punk, incorporating arabesque sonic swirls, thunderous beats, deft changes of pace, the usual cultural, counter-cultural and under-the-counter cultural references, staccato grooves and an epic battle between the titular vermin.

Wow, I feel worn out. The Year of The Rat is a pretty full on experience, in a good way. It takes their usual distain for genres and styles even further out yet somehow amongst all of the twists and turns, all the chaos and charming confusion, it always sounds like The Amber Bugs. They may be as mad as a bucket of frogs…or rats… or moles, but they are consistent, I’ll give them that!

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