Grasscut Grasscut1 Inch / ½ Mile
The alma mater of this psychedelic soup is British Andrew Philips, a soldier hardened on the battlefields of the alien sounds we’re dealing with here, as a guy who lives off writing music for TV shows, series and documentaries. So it was probably his need to plunge his hands into the mud with total freedom and to forge a reputation for himself outside his professional life which motivated him to join forces with bass and keyboard player Marcus O’Dair and embark on what would become one of this season’s most flamboyant and escapist musical expeditions. At a first listen, the fusion of glitch, prog-rock, ethereal pop, 8-bits, and lysergia is disconcerting. On second listen, however, one starts taking a liking to it. After that, it’s easy to adjust to the spikes and waves of a musical encephalogram in constant hyperactivity. It could be said that Grasscut is an electro-acoustic binge for post-modern ears and new-generation cultural snobs.
The sounds are undoubtedly captivating –the duo boasts a voice of its own which resonates in a kaleidoscopic universe, aimed for palates accustomed to outer-space melodies. Hidden under the carpet, one finds hypnotic wafts of daring creativity and an eagerness to find new paths in charted territory. Philips and O’Dair almost achieve their purpose—which is no small feat—by mixing neon and sepia, glitches and gramophones on the same canvas. For instance, on “ Tin Man” we hear the crackling voice of an early 20th Century singer taken from what seems to be a very old recording, his melancholic warble laid on a kind of updated—and teeth-gnashing— industrial base.
Following the density of “Tin Man” and shockingly enough, there comes “Muppet”, a vitamin-soaked, quasi-chiptune slice of delirium which sounds as if Squarepusher, Shellac and The Smurfs were playing together on crack (the end is pure chaos). The list of parallelisms is an orgy of names for the indietronica intelligentsia: Brian Wilson, Brian Eno, Scott Walker, Boards Of Canada, Fog, Baths, Calexico, Michael Nyman, John Cage, cLOUDDEAD. The album advances in unpredictable steps, sometimes with acrobatic strides (think of the digital noise and abrupt stops in ‘Passing’), sometimes tiptoeing into the dark side of the moon (the low-frequency post-rock of “Meltwater” is magnificent). Although Philips’s affected whispers are present in several tracks—I must confess I don’t quite like him as a singer—the best moments feature other voices. Besides “Tin Man”, there are other interesting explorations, for example the disturbing “1946”, where an old lady talks about the harshness of post-war life with a background of dark ambient and violins; and “In Her Pride”, featuring the disquieting recording of a Victorian poet embedded in a suffocating collection of Yann Tiersen-like instrumental waves.
“1 Inch / ½ Mile” is a cubist puzzle of Nintendos and century-old voices, of dusty instruments and digitalism, of steam machines and laser guns: pure steampunk in a sound format. In any case, let the gullible be warned that flamboyance here becomes sometimes hard-to-digest gibberish, a somewhat chaotic collection of incoherent Polaroid snapshots. It’s the risk of trying to challenge the borders between realms with such great conviction: you can outsmart yourself and listeners might end up wondering where the hell they are. But it would be unfair to focus excessively on the duo’s Achilles’ heel. Many other reviews out there have agreed on one thing: Grasscut needs a film in order to become a full-fledged project. Maybe because Philips writes film soundtracks professionally? Nevermind, if there’s something obvious in the world of Grasscut is that the music is the film and vice versa.