An album from last year that nearly slipped my grasp, and would have done had it not tripped over the doormat on its way out with my prized reel-to-reel bootleg of the Best of The UFO Club 1967 furtively concealed under its grubby raincoat, was Protein For Everyone by Bristolians Schnauser. Released on quality imprint Esoteric Antenna, the band’s fifth album sees them get lost in a time warp, but in a thoroughly enjoyable fashion it has to be said.
Imagine if Robert Wyatt had been the drummer/vocalist in Syd’s Floyd, also co-starring a teenage Ollie Halsall fresh from second division poppers Timebox, keen to show off his new-fangled jazzy chops on lead guitar. Right, got that fixed in your head? Add a classic 60s vintage organ sound that either Ratledge or Wright could have provided, and you’re about halfway to imagining what a fair proportion of this record sounds like.
Back in the here and now, the camera swoops down on our heroes approaching from the west in their knackered VW camper van, as the hallowed cellar nine feet underneath Canterbury hoves into view. Our intrepid foursome are waved down by a bunch of itinerant Dutchmen, keen to hitch a lift, babbling on about puddings and yesterday. That makes about as much sense as the highly daft but very enjoyable and blackly humorous subject matter of Protein For Everyone.
The theme of the album, a dystopian future-vision where one can sell one’s body parts for processing into “cheap tasty meat for easy cash” is reflected in the cover where the man in the picture has his head and hand replaced by cuts of meat. In the title track, our hero, under heavy manners from bills piling up is tempted by “Just one incision, a slither of spleen, world’s going crazy for cheaper protein” – lovely! Beneath the quirky main subject, the lyrics have a downbeat air, musing on one’s lot in the cycle of drudgery. Try “A celebration of the ordinary ways, the morning’s walk to work, and bin collection day…” for size, and there’s a song on the subject of feeling left out of the festive mania of the Christmas season, sung in Italian for added effect.
There are many other lines I could quote, but that might incorrectly give the impression that this is a depressing album, which could not be further from the truth. The dark lyrics are more than compensated for by the fizzingly infectious pop-psych stylings of the music, that as well as borrowing from the influence of all the usual Canterbury subjects also has a modern quirkiness about it. Buon Natale makes me smile with its opening and later reprised guitar chords strumming a take on an ancient REM song, which isn’t something you would expect, for sure.
In fact nothing is quite as it seems here in Schnauserland, as a straightforward tune is more often than not hijacked by sequences in odd time signatures and differing keys, that in less skilled hands would sound jarring. Referencing Buon Natale again, there are more ideas in its five minutes than some bands mange in half an album, and somehow it doesn’t sound like a right old dog’s dinner, but it all hangs together rather well.
A bit of a bugbear for me these days is the dreaded “prog epic”, as a lot of bands have more ambition than ideas or sometimes even ability in the “long song” department. Having heard what Schnauser are capable of leading up to Disposable Outcomes I wasn’t too worried, as ideas and ability are two things this crazy bunch most certainly do not lack.
Introduced by drummer Jasper Williams with a spoken word instruction in the manner of Stanshall on Tubular Bells thanking everyone for listening and instructing us to turn off our mobile phones as they may “interfere with your vibes”, the first section with one of the vocalists (Duncan Gammon wrote it, so is it he?) doing his best Robert Wyatt, sings in a self-effacing manner “We’ve just got one more tune to play. The needle’s in the final groove, so please oblige, don’t disapprove, if we now get carried away…”, and we’re off on a winding trip down a Kent countryside lane to a quite odd place indeed. The high register vocals also put me in mind of a rougher-edged Kevin Godley, and Schnauser certainly share an instantly identifiable quirky Englishness with 10CC at their mid-70s pop-prog peak, but this doggie comes from a more wilfully strange place than the English Steely Dan.
Those of you familiar with the strange extrapolations of Jarrod Gosling’s Regal Worm will love Disposable Outcomes as the dog certainly shares a synth patch or two with the worm. Although this “long ‘un” is dynamically varied enough to justify its length, I’m not entirely convinced that it is better than the sum of its parts, but there you go, that’s just me and my growing suspicion of any track longer than ten minutes.
Near the end, on Spleen Damage our narrator returns for more psychedelic storytelling, weaving tales of absinthe bordellos and DIY. This kind of surreal wittering brings a smile to my careworn fizzog, reminding me as it does of episodes of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End on the John Peel Show many, many moons ago.
This is an olde curiosity shoppe of an album, and much as I loathe shopping it has been a thoroughly enjoyable excursion… oh, and while you’re out, don’t forget tomatoes on your way back home, dear.
01. Grey Or Blue (5:50)
02. Protein For Everyone (4:02)
03. National Grid (6:23)
04. The Reason They’re Alive (4:16)
05. Split (4:07)
06. Buon Natale (5:04)
07. Disposable Outcomes (16:34)
a. Seizure Laters
b. Giant Daddy vs Big Haystacks
c. What on Earth Am I Moaning About?
d. Fractional Reserve Banking For Beginners
e. The Belluchi Microfiche
f. Everybody Wants To Ruin My World
g. Ordinary Ways
h. Spleen Damage – A Short Story
i. Eating Eric’s Pickles
j. Providing Future Proofed, Customer Focussed Marketing Solutions For The Retail Sector (in 10/8)
Total Time – 46:19
Alan Strawbridge – Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Melodica, Autoharp, Percussion, Bass (7)
Duncan Gammon – Vocals, Narration, Gem Jumbo Organ, Hohner Pianet, Piano, Mandolin, Glockenspiel & Synths
Holly McIntosh – Vocals, Bass, Glockenspiel & Melodica
Jasper Williams – Drums, Percussion & Announcements (7)
Record Label: Esoteric Antenna
Catalogue#: EANTCD 1036
Year Of Release: 2014