Latest offering from Bristol's Bum Tapes is a collection of some of the most immediate, charming and vital pop songs to emerge from British backwaters in what seems like forever. Ratface, a one man and his four-track set-up from the same city, is purveyor of an aesthetic so irresistibly couched in the hooks and histrionics of the instant-song that "Down with Ratface", his official sophomore, manages to feel more at home, more comfortable & more likeable than most contemporary "popular" music whilst simultaneously throwing some of the most original moves in recent British indie-punk-hop. I use the term pop (rather than punk or hip-hop, which would fit nearly as well) because these songs of love, poverty, resignation, hope and masturbation are crafted, I think, with that projection in mind - they are designed to be sung, and remembered, but reference with a very English wit their own transient existence. This self-reflexiveness presents itself in the relentless rhyming couplets that skip and spit over the drum-machine and guitar backing tracks precisely like an MC just waiting to explode, both emotionally and to the wider audience that the music, by its very nature, demands. Take: "I am happy with the chances I've had / selling cd-rs out of a Tesco bag / I can guarantee you it's worth three pounds / and I can guarantee you've never heard this sound", which encapsulates the sardonic charm of an individual, a perfect piece of MC hyperbole, and the irrefutable arc of any music that manages to cram its way into making enough money to substantiate itself.
Early Wiley, Dizzee Rascal & Tricky come to mind as much as The Smiths or "Figure-8" era Elliott Smith - listening to a great Ratface song brings up such seemingly disparate reference points because his individualism is matched with an ear for the most satisfying 3 minutes you've had all week. The beats are driving, playful and totally lo-fi, the guitars fuzzed but melodically enticing. "Turn it Down" does what any perfect pop song should do - trace a familiar story with zeal, furious energy and hooks stolen from an abattoir, replete with a chorus that sticks like something you can't quite put your finger on - it's a rip-off of the thrill, a copy of the feeling that accompanies all great pop songs (which is what Sisamouth and the rest of the Cambodian and Thai rock n' roll/electro-psyche wunderkids were so profoundly good at replicating, and what most modern pop writers seem to have abandoned in favour of million-dollar production and soft-core pornography). But the album makes some wonderful departures from the formula, most notably in "The Saviour and the Serpent", a haunting dirge that descends into one refrain, "bring it in / bring it out", screamed over an increasingly paranoid backing that finally self-destructs. Then "The Wet Song": "Sitting here on this dirty mattress / while the bishop decides what to say to the actress / focus on the pain and the amateur dramatics / blame it on the past or being out of practice", enacts a failure both truthful and necessary, that essential melodic empathy that sows such beautiful desire inside the listener - it's the recognition of the reaction to a great song, sung itself inside a great song: "sit wide awake with an empty belly / watch the dawn light the walls like it was on telly", reality as an analogy to artificial or virtual forms whose attraction is their very pervasiveness in everyday life. Ratface sings that everyday life with an infectious passion that you can't help but reciprocate - or at least dance to like a madman.
"Down with Ratface" has its low-points for sure, a couple of songs fail to transcend their own rudimentary beats and don't quite burst into life like the rest - but somehow this only makes the best songs even better. Album closer "Another Shit Date" traces a depressing urban situation with the same beautiful potential as the Blues greats transcended their environment - like Dylan said, by singing the blues, they've got them licked. In other words the album ends with a juxtaposition of rue, heartache and hope that pervades the whole record, a final act of self-awareness that is the hallmark of Ratface's pop genius. If you hate this, you are wrong. 9/10 -- Evan Rhodes (20 August, 2008)