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Led Bib: Sensible Shoes

Chris May By

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London quintet Led Bib is one of a succession of new millennial British bands, heralded by the perversely named Acoustic Ladyland—a high decibel punk fury of tenor saxophone, electric keyboards and bass, and drums—who are tearing up the jazz rule book with an enthusiasm which renders the description "iconoclastic" inadequate.



While Led Bib's moniker may proclaim its irreverent aesthetic more directly than Acoustic Ladyland's, the hefty rock ingredient in the band's sound has more to do with the noise-metal of Test Department and its antecedents, or the Velvet Underground at its most amphetamine crazed (think "White Light / White Heat" rather than "All Tomorrow's Parties"), than it does with singer Robert Plant's bluff and bluesy cocksmen. Throw in hefty portions of electric keyboard pioneer Sun Ra, free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and modern skronk, and we're approaching a meaningful thumbnail portrait.



Going to a Led Bib gig has been well described as "like crossing the road in a reverie and being run over by a passing bus—but in a pleasing way." On Sensible Shoes, its third album, the band continues its mission of taking jazz by the scruff of the neck, punching it in the face and watching the blood flow. The album will infuriate at least as many people as its pleasures, but therein lies its value; paradigms need regularly to be challenged and subverted, lest atrophy set in.



Delivering more of an in-the-moment live feel than either of Led Bib's previous albums, Sensible Shoes starts with two of the rocket-propelled style mash-ups the band is best known for, "Yes Again" and "Squirrel Carnage." Turbulent and urgent, a mess of ricocheting alto saxophones, bent keyboards and metal-head drums, their ambiance typifies the album and is returned to on three more tracks, "Sweet Chilli," "Call Centre Labyrinth" and "Flat Pack Fantasy."



Amongst the extremes of outrage and passionate endorsement Led Bib engenders, the band's winning forays into quieter, spacier, more lyrical terrain are generally passed over, lost, as it were, in the aftershock. But three tunes—"Early Morning," "Water Shortage" and "2.4.1. (Still Equals None)"—are at least as deep, in their more mellifluous and reflective way, as the raping and pillaging going on elsewhere on the album. The ghostly "2.4.1.," a homage to the electronic composer Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), may actually be the album's finest track. A key, but until quite recently uncelebrated, member of the BBC's innovative soundtrack unit, the Radiophonic Workshop, Derbyshire's many accomplishments included the arrangement and recording of Ron Grainer's famous Doctor Who theme. (On first hearing it, Grainer was tickled pink: "Did I really write this?" he asked. "Most of it," replied Derbyshire). The track does Derbyshire proud.



On "2.4.1.," it is the work of keyboard player Toby MacLaren which lodges in the memory longest. Whether on "acoustic" piano (probably, in fact, a Rhodes) or crazily bent circuitry, his fresh and imaginative contributions delight throughout this altogether excellent album. Just don't forget to wear a hardhat as well as stout footwear.


Track Listing: Yes Again; Squirrel Carnage; Early Morning; Sweet Chilli; 2.4.1. (Still Equals None); Call Centre Labyrinth; Water Shortage; Flat Pack Fantasy; Zone 4.

Personnel: Chris Williams: saxophone; Pete Grogan: saxophone; Toby McLaren: keyboards; Liran Donin: bass; Mark Holub: drums.

Title: Sensible Shoes | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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