Ergo Phizmiz Things to Do and Make Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A lopsided update of the famed 1960s Canterbury Sound.

Martin Aston 2010

Anyone who names their label Care in the Community is streets ahead of the comparatively mundane competition. And if said label owner then acts like they indeed do need care, that’s even better.

Things to Do and Make isn’t quite the soundtrack to the recent BBC3 comedy pilot This Is Jinsy, but has a similar air of unexpected jolly lunacy – in the tragically forgotten spirit of Viv Stanshall’s art-school layabouts The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (ask your art-school layabout dad). No wonder Bonzos freak John Peel namechecked Ergo in his autobiography.

Phizmiz has written for BBC radio and opera (The Mourning Show, about the death of a popular radio DJ through demonic infiltration of BBC phonelines, premiered in May) but this is his first album. He’s been labelled “a berserk electronic and plunderphonic whizzkid,” which makes sense when the album’s intro Busby Berkley – a banjo-fronted pop song masquerading as a 1930s tea dance – is followed by the scuffed Casio mash-up Fairy Chewbacca, which resembles a garden-shed-fi Blur B side.

Which in a manner of speaking leads back to Syd Barrett: the Edward Lear of psych-pop. Food and War and Mandrill aren’t far removed from Pink Floyd’s Bike, with an elliptical loveliness and child’s-dressing-up-box of silly noises, but the tunes are real earworms.  The Dapper Transvestite – powered by typewriter rhythm, Russian steppes backing vox and the chant “socks are stripy” – has some of Robert Wyatt’s gorgeous weary charm, so put two and two together and you have a lopsided update of the famed 1960s Canterbury Sound.

It’s not all rampant absurdity, though. Shanty is a shrug of a sad folk song and Parrot in the Pie belies its titles with more shapely melancholia. Current single, the loping and winding Lately, is similarly robust. In other words, Phizmiz is a bona-fide songwriter juggling absurdist humour rather than a comedy writer sketcher trying his hand at songs. Even if Phizmiz does overuse the duck quack. As Busby Berkley puts it: “Take off your brassiere and what d’you think about that?” Quite.

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