2009′s debut album At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea saw Rob Jones, who is the entirety of The Voluntary Butler Scheme, concoct an off-beam melange of bedroom cut-up pop that brought together pound shop Brian Wilson, lovelorn singer-songwriting, soul grooves and the scrappiness of C86 indie, all in laptop form. Live he attempted to recreate it all with loop pedals, keyboards and noisemaking toys. For The Grandad Galaxy Jones has evidently decided that this wasn’t half wildly eclectic enough and has taken to cutting up and relayering anything that might have got fully going.
If this sounds offputting it shouldn’t really be taken as such, more someone exhibiting an eccentric sense of structure where tracks develop outwards from mere scraps of samples, found sound collages constitute solos and songs end in markedly different fashion to how their bulk progressed – ‘Sky Shed’ turns with barely any warning from bits of samples lying about, ambient keyboard tones and a distant phone ringing into a hip-hop beat. Anyone looking for follow-ups to the warped pop Motown references of the first album’s singles will however leave disappointed. ‘To The Height Of A Frisbee’ is a very English kind of sunshine psych-pop, built on Northern Soul rhythms, Lennon-esque multi-tracked vocals and obtuse lyrics, but that’s as easily accessible as it gets.
The overarcing musical theme this time goes even further back than the Jackson 5 call-outs of yore, to pre-Beatles crooners and careful arrangement, as with the syrupy Hollywood strings backing the burnt out emotions of ‘Manuals’. More specifically there’s a lot of doo-wop reclamation in evidence. Does it feel like pastiche? Well, Ed O’Brien of Radiohead wrote regarding their ‘You And Whose Army’ that there would seem “nothing more sad than this slick sophisticated ’40s vocal group sound”, and the balladic pace of ‘Shake Me By The Shoulders’ and ‘Phosphor Burn-In’ (“these days can be so cruel”) would seem to back him up as echo effects on the lead vocal, Jones’ own wordless backing and a carefully clean, twanging guitar figure heightening the tear-streaked dance hall atmospherics no matter what treated drums and phased effects are inserted into the mix. ‘Astro’ meanwhile evokes early Joe Meek in its weird sonics right down to the space obsession, Jones declaring “I want to live my life on the moon / I’ve been looking for a little more elbow room and I think I’ve found it”.
Not to suggest that this is a purely retrospective record with a couple of modernistic sound effects. If Badly Drawn Boy hadn’t been seduced by major labels and Hollywood scoring and instead continued on the wilfully playful path his early EPs trailed this is how he might have progressed. Like the younger Damon Gough, Jones is a lo-fi auteur with an ear for often melancholic melodies and how to cut them into pieces while retaining their essential shape. ‘Hiring A Car’ is built on glitched up groovebox, rattling around a theme with drum machine, tinkling music box and deliberate hiss. ‘Do The Hand Jive’ sees jigsaw pieces of beats and sampled speech do battle with 70s kids TV theme keyboards, while ‘Satisfactory Substitute’ channels Entroducing, of all things.
The Grandad Galaxy is an odd album, a mad sonic scientist’s home brewed peculiarity on the surface, slightly overlong and maybe in places, especially towards the end, substituting ambition for solidified melodic ideas. At the same time it’s more introspective, still retaining a charming faux-naivety in the way it approaches emotions (“my cold cold heart needs microwaving”) but sometimes sounding like it wants to put the smile back on its face. Jones’ stated aim was to “blend all the different types of music I’ve been making together”. Such wanton diversity has led to many falling short, but The Voluntary Butler Scheme way is to hang the consequences of staying within the parameters of one genre when there’s so much to explore, tinker with and fuse together in a metaphorical garden shed for your own entertainment.