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Jon Kennedy - Useless Wooden Toys


Review: Rob Lord

I DON'T eagerly await anything anymore. Christmas and birthdays no longer excite me. I may get a little twitchy close to a holiday, but that’s as stimulated as I get these days.

Jon Kennedy, though, does it for me. In the aural sense only, you’ll understand.

His first two albums, one for Grand Central (GC) and one for Tru Thoughts, were a benchmark. Just like Ninja Tunes, GC have moved the breaks on from scratches and flute loops to more organic and more musical pieces. Jon Kennedy has been leader of the revolution at GC.

For his latest offering, if you believe the press, Jon has plumbed the depths of musical instruments and even created his own to conjure a unique sound.

I’ll be honest, I can’t play a triangle so can certainly not tell what a ‘down tuned snare drum’ or ‘undusted scuzzy production values’ sound like.

I do know, however, what Useless Wooden Toys, sounds like. It sounds like the girl you pick up despite knowing she’s been with everyone else in town.

It’s dirty, raw, uncomplicated and it makes you go back time and time again. There are no heart warming strings and no romantic piano. There’s not even any trademark Kate Rogers or Veba vocals.

All that said, Useless Wooden Toys doesn’t sound astoundingly new or different.

Cut Up opens up with a dirty baseline and distorted vocals. It’s a pleasant enough introduction.

Much better is You, You & You. Jon’s vocals sail over the downbeat and the whole tune sounds like summer; it is uplifting in the strangest way.

Brilliant, You, You & You is the tune I eagerly awaited.

In fact, it’s Jon’s vocals on We Milk Life But Dress Smooth and Useless Wooden Toys that make them the outstanding tracks.

They all feel like someone’s stripped the rubbishy bits from a rock band and left the great backing track. Simple and uncomplicated ditties that your head nods to.

I have to mention Save The People. This is a truly different and outstanding moment on the album. It’s an eerie, twisted ska track with Jon’s vocals reverberating across the top. It comes as a surprise half way through the album and is unlike anything else on Useless Wooden Toys - it just sounds great.

Heavyweight Freight sits uncontrollably like a fidgety six-year-old. The beat bumps and jumps and never pauses for a break, while the disjointed vocals, dance samples and guitars remind me of Underworlds classic album, dubnobasswithmyheadman.

In fact, the whole feel of Useless Wooden Toys feels like an updated 2005 bastard cousin of it. The only problem with following dubnobasswithmyheadman, is you’ve got one hell of an act to follow.

Tracks such as Sand People, Pick Up Sticks, The Beef, Lodestar, All A Dream and Never Wed An Old Man are all good tracks but the ear aches to hear Jon’s disjointed vocals once again.

It’s sometimes the case that instrumentals are overshadowed by vocal tracks and that’s the case here.

Useless Wooden Toys is a good album. Jon Kennedy’s advanced his craft and the tracks he sings on make the album.

The others, well they’re good, but not that different or dissimilar to his other offerings. I have to recommend this album, it’s Jon Kennedy after all, but when you set the stakes so high, your bound to disappoint.

 

Track listing:
1. Cut Up
2. You, You & You
3. Heavyweight Freight
4. Sand People
5. We Milk Life But Dress Smooth
6. Save The People
7. Pick Up Sticks
8. The Beef
9. Useless Wooden Toys
10. Lodestar
11. All A Dream
12. Never Wed An Old Man
13. They Made Us Too Many

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