Is it even really Christmas if a new Euros Childs album hasn’t dropped a few days before? Since 2018’s Olion, the former Gorky’s frontman (and current keyboardist in the wonderful Teenage Fanclub) has unceremoniously unleashed a new collection of recordings, mostly going out via bandcamp and his soundcloud page, eschewing the industry norm of having them go up on Spotify and iTunes and all that lame-o corporate whatever-see-if-I-care. If you’re a fan you’ll already be on board with this disinterested, dismissive attitude toward the crutch of centralised streaming and be ready and waiting for an album every year anyway as Christmas week approaches. And if you’re outside that bubble and not a real fan and so aren’t aware that new music is coming, then it doesn’t really matter anyway. One thing you’ll never get from Childs, and never have done even back in his teenage years when his band found itself an unlikely scruffy darling of the Britpop scene, is the feeling that he gives a damn one way or the other whether you’re listening to his music or not.
This for the most part is a good thing. There is a winning flightiness to everything Childs does, and he remains one of the few artists around who is at his best when being utterly self-indulgent. None of the “Christmas week albums” are as focussed or satisfying as 2017’s House Arrest (which came out in November of that year – Childs obviously hadn’t hit on the December formula quite yet), but each of the five between then and now has its lasting charms. This latest, Curries, follows a similar pattern in so much as you can never be sure what’s going to come up next, a barnstormer of a loose-limbed indy hit, an electro loop, or a soundscape meditation on time and nature. The formula – or lack thereof – means that an album like Curries can sometimes feel frustratingly undercooked, littered with tracks that feel like demos to what would be really good songs if they were ever finished. If Childs can’t write lyrics to such interesting instrumentals as we find here in “Arise” and “Darklin” then we have to wonder if he actually has anything much to say at the moment. But that’s the frustration: songwriters are always writing songs when they have nothing to say. Some of them are even great.
Tonally, Curries throws up some surprises, too; none of them unwelcome. Opening with “Milk Floats”, a charming provincial ditty that seems to have a broken stapler on the percussion track, it’s the first to suggest a more robust approach to songwriting might have created something more memorable. Tom Waits would have carved a carnival out of it. We take a handbrake turn with “Jagged Croon” (my favourite song on the album) which both sounds wickedly contemporary and as if Ralf und Florian just came out yesterday. Childs even tips his vocal toward Florian Schnieder-esque plainness. It’s a witty, playful joy of a record, and just begs the question why more of these sorts of vocals and lyrics don’t appear elsewhere. By the time we get to Rowenna Finlayson’s first of three guest vocals on “Elephant Mouse Teacup Sun” things are beginning to come together, and there’s a chance the elevator pitch for Curries (were Childs ever to pitch his records to anyone) might actually be Tom Waits writes for Kraftwerk. Finlayson has a druidic presence, and she whispers like a Goblin record in some places, and chants monotone like Blackbox Recorder elsewhere.
There is a sinister underbelly to the record, well captured by Stephen Black at the desk (it’s written in the statute books that Stephen Black must be referred to everywhere as Stephen Black AKA Sweet Baboo). I suspect Black is also playing bass – his weapon of choice in outfits like Cate le Bon’s band – I hope I’m giving credit where it’s due for such precision and energy on tracks like “Children of the Tomb”.
If it’s not immediately clear from this review whether I like this album, then let me be clear that I do; but the caveat is that I would prefer a record where I wasn’t wishing it was filled out a bit in parts. But Childs does what he does, and he pleases himself, hit or miss, as he has always done. And, if push came to shove, I wouldn’t change a thing about him.
Curries is available to stream, or download, here.