I have to admit to being a little surprised that one of my favourite albums of the year has come from a three-piece wielding an accordion, ukulele and flugelhorn, not to mention a chicken organ and a fake trumpet. But while the Marseille Figs list of instruments reads like a mail order catalogue for a joke-come-junk shop (I didn’t mention the buzz organ, juju guitar and monkey mouth), there’s good old-fashioned percussion and guitars too, and a truly heavenly old school ragtime bar busking sound that manages to beautifully emulate Violent Femmes and The Bad Seeds in just the first two tracks. And as it goes on, you realise The Dirty Cannon really does have everything; upbeat swamp pop, dour and earthy storytelling, heart-stopping ballads and a wicked sense of humour, all played with skill and dexterity across a dizzying array of styles and tempos.
If you’re a fan of the likes of Violent Femmes and Shoulders you simply have to check out Marseille Figs. They have a slightly misleading tag as avant-garde amateurs, due mainly to following the songwriting ethics of punk and folk traditions, but the result is an infectious mix of American and European folk played with a freedom falling somewhere between jazz showing off and punk abandon. Not bad for a trio who rarely reside in the same country at once and tend to gig when they happen to be in the same place at the same time.
Special mention too, for the lyrics. Like The Broken Family Band, they effortlessly occupy both ends of the spectrum, making you laugh one minute and dragging you down a dark alley for a good kicking the next. “Caesar’s Revenge” is a biopic of an angry motherfucker built around the line, “But I didn’t give a fuck about it anyway”. When frontman J. Maizlish delivers the line, “Absolutely goddamned right my friend” you picture Nick Cave every time. But then, in the next track, it’s all jolly, have-to-get-up-for-a-boogie nonsense with “Honey How You Like Your Eggs”. My personal favourite, though, is “Dirty Little Monkey”; the first time I heard the line, “He’s a dirty little monkey and his mammy don’t wear no draws” I was on a packed tube. I may have looked like a total twat giggling away to myself like a schoolgirl, but hey, them’s the breaks. And frankly, anything that gets you through the daily commute with a smile is a bonus.
I could witter on about this for ages, but I won’t bore you any longer. For example, did I mention the foot-tappin’ mouth organs on “Boxcar Charlie”? The clever, lilting close to “Don’t Fall Asleep at the Wheel”? The… oh, sorry. Just go listen to it.