2 January 2016
This Little Tractor - Keeping It Simple
Catch up is in full effect and it is time to look at This Little Tractor - hailing from rural Shropshire in the UK, this band is made up of Abbie Lathe & DJ Barney Bee. According to the website they are an alternative electronica band who mix up the styles of dance, pop, reggae, folk and world music; which could be a great mix if done right. Now I know that we are only just into 2016, but as this was released in 2015 it has become a retro review for our own purposes (we have issues, sorry about that). The cover of the album is keeping it very simple, will the music be just as simple as well?
The opening track "Ha Ha Ha" starts with a mixture of strings, pianos and layers of vocals mixed together. It has a trip-hop/Massive Attack/Dido feeling with a loose song that has a lot going on with vocals, but musically it is very sparse and empty with time for notes to be noticeable absent. To be honest, it is just as well there are gaps here as the track works really well and if anything else was added it might have become too cluttered and that would have been to the determinant of the song. "Mirror Image" is a very good song, this band loves to like in the spaces between notes and this song is a great number. You have an Imogen Heap vibe to the song, it is a slow burner that is in no hurry to get to its conclusion and it is worth persisting with. "More Than Meets The I" reminds me of Ian King and his folk/reggae album "Panic Grass & Fever Few", this is the first song that comes from the folk influence of the band and it has a lot more going on with the sound as well. It is a nice tune that builds around a soft pattern and is pleasant on the ears. It is something I could give or take, but I know if I was in the mood it would be the type of music that would be the only this I would want to listen to; I think the word I am looking for here is potential, there is a lot of potential to the song which is not revealed at this point. "Fragile Beauty" is next and it shares a similar feeling to "More Than Meets The I" with a folk vibe to the verses, the chorus does not quite match them but it does not sound bad. It also ends a too soon to make any deep impression and feels as if it needed longer to reveal its beauty. It is not a bad song, but it does not feel right either.
"Like Glass" is the fifth song that starts with vocals layered up layer as wires, keys and other things clash before the bass comes in and more vocals are added to the song to reveal further sections to the song and nothing ever leaves the song and it just loops around and around, till you get to the two-minute mark and then the strings take over and the vocals are removed as the emotive synth takes over till they are removed and the vocals take the centre stage again. It is an interesting song; it is one that I think might be difficult to perform live without a looper. It is a mixture of Bat for Lashes, Nathalie Stern and Yeasayer, it makes sense after a few listens and was at least give a chance to expand on its main points. "Ode 2 Water" starts with piano, other synth noises and it a song about water (as the title rightly suggests). This song takes all the good points about this band and places them in one song - when they take their time, it greats something beautiful and it is also great when they take their time to reach a peak that actually goes somewhere and not just keeping the same tune looping with no progression. Definitely one of the top songs of the album, by a large margin. "Divine" seems to take the band down a Portishead route musically, it reminds me of moments on 'Dummy' and it feels darker than most of this album. It deals with relationships and feelings being challenged and attitudes being changed, with the moments and connections being brought into play. It is a good song, but once more I am finding myself disconnected from it and I cannot place my figure on the reason why. Nothing bad going on again, but something is not there for me in this number and it feels like I am watching TV through someone else's window. "Sweet Chestnut" is a folk inspired number about family ties and roots taking shape and form for the first part of the song, then the electronica element kicks in to the song and takes the song in a different direction. It is a song of two halves and the second half of the song does not work for me together with the first half; this is a rare case where both parts of the song are beautiful, but they would have worked better as a part 1 and a part 2. You cannot fault the craft of the music, but the two style do not gel well enough when they join and it feels too forced.
"Squirrels" is the next song and this one mixes the folk and the electronica from the beginning and it works a lot better than "Sweet Chestnut" as it is not forced together in the middle of the song. A song about family life, it mixes metaphors and messages in a way that reminds me a lot of Tori Amos and (once again on the album) Imogen Heap. It has a lot going on compared to earlier sections of the album, giving the song a bit more depth musically but not grabbing me as much as "Ode 2 Water" and "More Than Meets The I". It does grow with each listen, there is more revealed with each spin of the song and will probably improve with age. "Merciful" is stripped back with the bass, light piano, electronic swirls and some gentle guitar, with a pray for mercy and redemption being the main catalyst of the song. Once more I am listening to a song which is well performed and I am devoid of an attachment to the number in any form, it is not bad once again however once it is finished I am not itching to listen to it again sadly. Starting with the sound of waves "Deep Blue C" really slows it down, as the metaphors between the water and love are mixed up in the gentlest of songs from this band. It does not move too much to be honest, but it does have a beauty that makes it lynch into your mind. It is might be the water looping through the song, the way it all comes together with the lyrics and music or the way is it not over complicated; this song works very well and very relaxing. The penultimate song "Ishness of Everything" is a spoken word performance laid over a minimalist trip-hop song that spins around and it keeps going on to the point that when the song ends and it starts again, you have no real reference point to the beginning and the end and you can be lost in the poetry of the song. It is a special tune which feels like a natural companion to a song by The Orb called "Little Fluffy Clouds" and actually makes a lot of sense. Ending the album is "Improvability" which loops vocals and synth to sound like an incidental piece which could have been used in an advert to a horror film. It is a natural coda piece that ends this album, but it is not really an important track in the landscape of the record.
Well that was that...... As an album it is pleasant enough on the ears and is a few tracks too long for my tastes. It reminds me a lot of other artists (especially Imogen Heap, which is a real compliment) and musically it seems to rest more on the folk and electronica. At times the two worlds feel forced and in other times it feels incredibly natural; the natural moments seem to be the ones that have nature at the heart of the narrative and that tends to make them stand out more. When they hit that sweet spot that it makes for a warm and inviting record. However, for a lot of the record I felt disconnected to the music and could not relate to it; it is not a bad album, but it did not make an impression with me. I would not say I disliked them, I think that the band have an appeal - it is just not to my own bizarre tastes. I wish them well and hope that one day they make me eat my words and release an album that flaws me and feeds me humble pie.
6.5 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there
Top song - Ode 2 Water
You can purchase Keeping It Simple on Amazon here
You can visit the This Little Tractor website here - you can also purchase the album directly from the band as well on this website
You can follow the activities of This Little Tractor on Facebook here
You can stream Keeping It Simple on Spotify here
You can stream Keeping It Simple on Deezer here
This album is not on Tidal at the time of writing
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