The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


The Voluntary Butler Scheme
Grandad Galaxy Meryl Trussler , July 12th, 2011 15:12

The unGoogleable Rob Jones of highly-Googleable The Voluntary Butler Scheme records most of his material in his bedroom, Wikipedia alleges. Surely some citation needed, Wikipedia! Because gosh: debut album, At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea sounded nothing like a bedroom and everything like a dozen cheerful 70s sitcom themes sung by Damon Gough. Bright and bold, with horn sections bursting out the sides like painted rainbows.

Grandad Galaxy, though – this sounds a little more like a bedroom. "Bedroom pop", at least, which designation likely depends a lot on the listener's own developmental psychology. Associations might include: singing thinly into a toy tape recorder; soprano ukuleles; shitty, cheap amplifiers; glow-in-the-dark plastic stars and rocketship wallpaper; Lullatone, The Motifs and Elephant Parade. Jones picks and mixes from this palette. His voice is drowsy over a lustrous dreamscape, complete with sampled music boxes, harps, and all else that twinkles. Often this creates an unnatural distance between singer and song. On 'Astro', for example, Jones sings of wanting to "live my life on the moon" with a fuzz to the vocals that is probably meant to evoke ground control transmissions; instead, he mostly sounds bored.

The problem recurs. Musically, 'Shake Me By the Shoulders', 'Phosphor Burn-in' and 'Don't Rely On It, Don't Count On It' perfectly bridge the gap between vintage rock and roll balladry and Flaming Lips' space-synths. Jones intended to mash-up disparate influences, using "really simple tunes, uncynical lyrics, nice clean guitar" that regardless "would offend Buddy Holly's ears". Whether or not Holly spins in his grave that easily, the most offensive aspect of Grandad Galaxy is not its frankly lovely electronic tinkering (nor its spelling of "granddad", which is discretionary, should anyone be appalled). It's that these vocals sound so bland and distracted. None of Holly's yips, gulps and tamped-down sexuality here. The "uncynical lyrics" hardly justify singing at all, with such stunners as "I've got room in my heart for you, I got room in my heart for two, and I never wanna let you go" in 'Empty Hand'.

Thankfully there is a wide selection of instrumental tracks here, crammed with drum fills, string samples and chimes reminiscent of The Books or Four Tet. In the end, the merry little wordless ditties, such as the effervescent 'D.O.P.I.', comprise the most imaginative and listenable work on here. This doesn't mean that Rob Jones should shut his furry maw forever. It only means that his vocal cords and words could do with a share of the crystalline energy that abounds in aptly named closer, 'Pow'. However cuddlesome previous critics have felt towards everyday lyrics about broccoli and how his "cold cold heart needs microwavin'", the style has limited scope. In the words of the archetypal mum: get out of your bloody bedroom and go play outside.