⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Mouth Full o’ Sunshine, the sophomore release from British-based the Crybabies is both a startling step forward for the group and a startling change of direction. While I found their first album The Devil’s Raincoat interesting but marred by questionable arrangements and production (particularly the bulk of side two), this new record feels like a breath of fresh air. The songs flow from one treat to the next crisply and seamlessly with barely enough time to spare, no one element dominating or outstaying its welcome.
Without sounding rushed or halfbaked each track keeps its focus fluid, never relying too long on any one riff or melody as it pulls you from start to satisfying finish. There’s a happy variety of moods on display here as well, everything from the breezy “Windbag” (with its rich, marvelous sound of the band in full overdub mode with kit violin (or pochette), bassviolin, sax, flute and clarinet all making an appearance) to the techno-sinister fun of “The Shadow Nose.”
Kicking off with “Brother Rubber,” the album lets you get comfortable with bendy basslines from Hal Poach and Arthur Hash’s lazy reggae-inspired backbeats supporting the contrapuntal sax and flute of Jimmy Gotham before upping the ante with the 2012 Black Puke offering “Nocturnal Omission.” Here about half as long and turned into a surprisingly funky near-homage to ’60s psychedelia à la Jefferson Airplane, complete with extended but never tedious guitar, clarinet and keyboard solos, the former horrorave club hit is an example of the kind of thing the band’s first album only hinted at: their way with taking material from a wide variety of sources and turning it on its ear, almost (re)writing it for the first time. On Raincoat we got a taste of this with their icy medieval rendition of ’80s Go-Go’s hit “Vacation” but on Mouth Full… it’s clear as day and just as welcome.
Next up, cleverly zigzagging, they begin the pop-crunch pummeling of “Bum Doubt,” except in this case the riffs come from distorted acoustic guitar and violin, featuring a terrific guest tuba by Frightened Bastard’s B.D. Ize.
The frenetic, timeshifting attack of “So and So” contains quite possibly vocalist Atlice Shruged’s best performance, eerily harmonizing with lead singer and guitarist Burt Goodsy’s own processed voice, while the backing polyrhythmic vocals of Gotham and Hash put it happily over the top. The famous Fungus Palace where the album was recorded gives the drums and bass a tremendous, rock-solid thud that really works here, especially during the quieter moments.
After the above mentioned “Windbag” and “The Shadow Nose” the record barrels headlong into “Emotional Blackjack” and the bizarre acoustic guitar and distorted flute dirge of “Box Toe Gum” with its silky, slithering bass and swampy electric guitar and tenor violin.
The album closes with its only misstep, “Carmen Miranda Rights,” which, despite a plethora of hilarious lyrics, comes off a little too on the nose, though the closing jam with Lady Swear (of Detroit cabaret dance band Porridge) on piano makes a fine finale.
Producer Macarthur Park obviously had a field day getting everything to work so well, even breaking his own rule of “no tuba” while still imparting the modern/retro sound he’s known for. The recording is spacious when it needs to be and intimate as well, with a fine blend of clean and processed instruments and vocals.
If this is a sign of things to come for the Crybabies then I look forward to their next release.