Third album from Manchester's skewed global fusionists Homelife, this time on Ninja Tune.
Dan Hill 2002
After two fine albums on their own imprint (Madwaltz), Manchester's secret weapon Homelife have finally been spotted. Agit-funksters from the big smoke, Ninja Tune, have given them the platform they deserve, and in return Homelife deliver their best yet. And at their best, they're utterly fabulous - idiosyncratic, rich heady brews of rootless sound. No-one sounds quite like them.
Bassist-about-town Paddy Steer is the guiding force behind this sprawling, multinational band - participants from Canada, China and, oooh, Cheetham Hill - truly the sound of Manchester in the 21st century. It's almost the New Exotica, though more Gay Village than Quiet Village. It'd be labelled Fourth World music if it wasn't on Ninja - and so effortlessly enjoyable.
The rhythms are variously motorik and shambolic, Tom Waits' funkier cuban-heeled grooves and loping hip-hop manouevres. A friend asked after the "dysfunctional" music I was listening to. I hope Homelife take this as a compliment.
That the Homelife sound is so distinctive is largely due to two things: 808 State-alumni Graham Massey, deploying his wonderfully off-kilter woodwinds, and in particular Semay Wu's cellos and Rosie Lawler's violins, who lend wonderful, swaying Chinese strings, akin to Michael Gallasso's soundtrack to Wong Kar Wai's "In The Mood For Love", but more light-hearted, more intoxicated.
"Buffalos" illustrates this perfectly: strings twittering between the High Chapparal and the Yellow River, analog synths echoing around outer and inner space, slide guitar posted from Hawaii, loping shuffles straight outta Madchester. Utterly beguiling. "Fair-Weather View" is bonkers, but beautiful; quite miraculously staying afloat. "Mai Besche Peeinal" sounds like a Russian story (but probably isn't) set on the steppes of Stockport Road. "Dosta" is surrealist fantasy, then dreamy loopyness. Anything seems possible. When steel drums suddenly ripple through "Too Fast", you only wonder why they took so long to emerge.
Chinese opera singer Seaming To, as well as possessing one of the best names in the business, is quite unique. When only Yma Sumac springs to mind as a comparison, we're talking a rare talent (she also provides vox on the new Mr Scruff album). Faron Brooks' spare, fragile but soulful vocals sound as if they've been beamed in from Canada this time, as opposed to taking the poorly-recorded audio-tape-in-brown-envelope route. Allegedly, fact-fans, Brooks recorded the theme tune to 70s TV show "Why Don't You". I don't believe it for one minute, but all is possible in Homelife-world.
They're great fun live too, not least in their lengthy, endearingly chaotic sound checks - well, you try to cram a 15-piece band plus exotic instrumentation onto a small stage. Grab this as an introduction, then check out their earlier releases, why don't you.