Hand Built by Robots, by Newton Faulkner
Suggested by Noel Bresland
I used to be a drummer.
I received a drum kit for, I think, my fifteenth birthday. It was a basic second-hand four-piece affair, coloured in patterned mahogany, with one dented cymbal and no stool. I was in a band with school friends from the second I picked up some sticks, learning the basics on the run, local small-beer gigs providing my practice time.
School became college became university, and this tired four-piece mahogany kit was with me at every step. Elements were replaced over time, but the core remained constant. This was no Trigger’s Broom. The Hi-Hat was upgraded, the snare drum levelled up, but I always kept the mainframe and I never bought a stool. And my skills improved too, from “the basics” to “the basics with filigree.”
After university, the kit went into storage. The real world saw no time for student folly, and I drifted away to other hobbies. Eventually, I sold the kit for the price of a TV licence, although I spent the licence money on beer instead.
But, once a drummer, always a drummer. My new kit was whatever was in my hands, or just my hands themselves. Pens trilled on notepads, finger-guns paradiddle on table edges, palms slapped on bongo thighs, or syncopated on steering wheels on the morning commute. Because the percussion is in you, bone deep, if you’ve four-foured your way through Mustang Sally more times than The Commitments.
I mention this because Newton Faulkner, while being a guitarist and not a drummer, is certainly a percussionist at heart.
Hand Built By Robots is Faulkner’s debut release, containing seventeen short pop-rock tracks with a percussive guitar core. It’s forty-five minutes of charming irreverence, with perfectly crafted, catchy melodies that will bore into your brain and reside there rent-free. From the standout opener To The Light, with its twittering guitar and thumping foot-stomp echo, through the jangle-spangle upbeat single Dream Catch Me, to the earnest and heartfelt Uncomfortably Slow, and the quirky yet accomplished UFO, there is no single second that feels unconsidered.
The central conceit of the playing is Faulkner’s intimate percussive guitar style, replete with pops and strums and clicks and taps. It’s a robust sound, with an innate sense of closeness and a carthorse-sized haystack of talent, and it makes the percussionist in me smile a mile wide. It’s not unique, by any means; I’m reminded of earthy early works by Ani DiFranco, more through tone and timbre than content, but it’s a pleasant connection nonetheless. The tracks are rhythmic, with a spine, and delivered with energy and panache.
Downsides? Surprisingly few, although they are enough to taint the tincture. A significant portion of the tracks are criminally short, almost presented as ideas rather than songs. There are some peculiar lyrical choices at times, with talk of anal probes and kung fu, and while the cover version of Massive Attack’s Teardrop is decent enough, it’s leagues behind the peerless original.
Hand Built By Robots gets a qualified 7/10, but make no mistake, this is an excellent album. While it’s in no way a drumming masterclass, it has a drummer’s heartbeat, so much so that this lapsed skinbeater has been Googling electric kits ever since I listened. If I do return to tubthumping, I’ll have Newton Faulkner to thank.