Mind Fair – Mind Fair
There’s something particularly fitting about the minute-long blast of carousel organ and fairground sound atmospherics that gently ushers in Mind Fair’s debut full length. With this aural shorthand, Ben Shenton and Dean Meredith are promising a trip to the musical funfair of your dreams. In many ways, it’s a bold objective. While the reality of travelling funfairs is fairly seedy and disappointing – dodgy rides and rigged sideshows, some flashing lights, loud music and copious amounts of candy-floss – the picture postcard fantasy remains alluring, regardless of your age. Framing an album around this unattainable funfair fantasy is a bold move, but a clever one; straight away, Shenton and Meredith have carte blanche to go in any direction they want, safe in the knowledge that they have a narrative device to draw all their disparate strands together.
It could be argued that the duo’s work benefits from some kind of concept or thematic focus. Since joining forces in 2011, their output has been almost too eclectic. By the time they popped up on Phil South’s Golf Channel imprint last year with the deliciously fuzzy Downtown Nubian EP, they’d already released a string of fine records that variously touched on lo-fi soul, Balearica, proto-house and disco. Their subsequent EPs have included trips into blues-house, blue-eyed soul and distorted disco-funk. And that’s not including the album the duo produced under the Central Executives pseudonym, which sounded like it was recorded in New York in that oh-so fertile period between 1979 and 1983.
Whether Phil South was involved in picking the concept of Mind Fair is unclear; either way, the decision to give the duo a clear framework in which to indulge their anything-goes idealism was a smart one. The fairground sound effects so shrewdly used at the beginning of the LP are subtly woven into the fabric of the album throughout. So, as tracks begin to fade away, amusement arcade and fairground recordings are brought to the fore, before disappearing to make way for the next bout of anything-but-the-kitchen-sink madness.
Of course, the success or otherwise of Mind Fair as an album rests squarely on the quality of the material contained within this loose structure. Happily, it contains some of Shenton and Meredith’s most startling, original and exciting work to date. While there are nods to the pair’s shared love of dub disco – see the slowed down, Chicken Lips-meets-Chakk brilliance of “Neon Carnival”, or the exotic thrills of “Green Fingers (Love From Above)” – and Balearica (the blissful, bluesy “Sunny Carter”), it’s the unexpected or harder to define moments that hit home hardest.
Take, for example, the final four tracks on side A; this sequence begins with “Deutsche Bag”, a swirling, psychedelic tribute to the glory years of krautrock. This is followed by “Cursed”, a harmonica and banjo-laden chunk of dub-funk, and “You Got The Lovin”, a sweet-but-odd downtempo workout built around stuttering, electro style drums, delay-laden flute solos, weird electronic effects, slowed down punk-funk bass and some seriously aggressive guitar licks. The sequence, and side A, is completed by “Voodoo Train”, three minutes of dense African drums, tribal chants and Liquid Liquid style freestyle scat singing.
Wisely, Shenton and Meredith leave the album’s real crowning glory till last. “Mushroom Blues” is the very epitome of the loose musical funfair theme that draws all these disparate tracks together. It begins with the wide-eyed rush of hands-in-the-air house pianos, breaks down into loose disco percussion, and then proceeds to add layer upon layer of new instrumentation. There’s blues guitar, cowbell, a lazy dub bassline, more guitars, and even a faintly foreboding melody that sounds strangely exotic. Then, with little warning, it breaks into steel drums and pianos before abruptly stopping. It’s a simultaneously fitting and strangely anticlimactic finale.
A1. Enjoy The Fair (Intro)
A2. Green Fingers (Love From Above)
A3. Deutsche Bag
A5. U Got The Lovin’
A6. Voodoo Train
B1. Neon Carnival
B2. So Morose
B3. Sunny Carter
B4. Find Me At The Fair
B5. Mushroom Blues