1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 121

Mad Apple Circus, by Mad Apple Circus
Suggested by Alex Hamilton

I’ve never attended a music festival. They sound wretched.

First you queue up online to grab expensive passes. Then you queue up to get into a campsite. Then you queue up to buy bad food from a grubby van. Then you queue up to crap into a trough. Then you queue up to buy watered down lager. Then you stand in a field surrounded by sweaty strangers and watch a matchstick band jump up and down on a stage that’s half a mile away. Then you sleep in a tent surrounded by screaming drug-addled asshats. Then you do it all again on Day 2.

And sometimes, it’s pissing it down.

I’m an old and grumpy man, and I’m more than happy with my creature comforts and my streaming services, thank you very much. If it means I miss the odd “festival favourite” band – which is code for “not particularly popular” – then I’ll not lose any sleep.

Mad Apple Circus are a self-declared festival favourite, a Bristolian nine-piece Pop / Ska / Hip Hop ensemble with an impressive level of creativity and an infectious sound. The majority of the songs are toe-tappingly catchy, with fine brassy hooks over ska guitar. This is overlayed with cerebral and characterful rapping, alongside mo0te traditional male and female vocals that smooth the spice like a dollop of cream.

It’s an energetic album, all told, from the bouncing opener The Seed to the equally bouncing closer Reed The Fat. There’s a certain pop density to the music, a rather full sound created by the swollen lineup and instrumentation. There are a couple of more pared-down songs lurking in the centre, most notably the acoustic slacker’s anthem Not For Me and the subsequent What People Do, but these help sculpt the overall flow by adding pleasant troughs to accomplished peaks.

Those peaks, though…

These songs are infectious. They’re crafted, and joyful, and intelligent, and fun. They’re also controlled, and contained, and polite. They’re neat and tidy, freshly painted and primped on the eve of a visit from The Queen. It’s all a touch too shiny.

I like this album, but I feel it’s betraying the genre somewhat by reigning itself in. It’s a tightly polished work, when one of the joys of brassy and bouncy ska is that element of chaos, that feeling that the musicians are straining at the edge, the breathless exultation that accompanies a hope that anything can and will happen. To me, ska is forever beating on the sides of the box, trying to punch holes through which they can poke tongues and blow raspberries. And sometimes they can poke more than tongues through those holes, if you catch my meaning. Mad Apple Circus seem content in the centre of the box, powering out solid songs but never once straying from their buffed and sheened core components.

But I did enjoy this. It tickled a lot of my fancies, and raised more than one genuine smile. My favourite song is Back to Basics, which I think is the best blending of the genres on offer. As for score, Mad Apple Circus get a creditable but qualified 8/10. If only they’d have brought a hurricane, they’d have hit a nine and blown my house away.

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