One of the great things about Grasslands’ broad sonic scope is that the music seems to genre-hop brilliantly, ignoring the rules and regulations, fads and fashions of any particular style and yet tipping a hat, in this case a wolf-themed one, naturally, to many. It’s a trick he is able to pull off live, though then his wonderfully chaotic manipulations of the massed technology he has assembled around him tend to send him down some very improvised routes. This EP is, as expected, a more disciplined, but no less mercurial, affair.
Kicking off with the title track, the first of two reworkings from the most excellent Flames, Doorways, Grass and Time, the central themes of the song – the upbeat acoustic guitar, the straight down the line beats, the philosophical nature of the lyrics – still remain but slowly get subverted by technological textures, lucid musical layers and sublime sonic shocks. Ajar is also a blend of its album original and re-imaginings, a song which seems the perfect bridge between his acoustic set and the more byzantine musical outings.
The remaining two songs are live favourites which have finally been tied down and recorded, though rather than being the definitive version of the songs, you have to understand that a Grasslands recording is just as much of a “what was happening on the day” as the live shows are. The Ball Starts to Roll, is a darker, denser piece, a great downward spiral riff being the focal point around which the sinister vocals dance.
But if you are already a fan of Grasslands it is probable that it is the final track, Ambient Groceries, that you have come here for, an epic, a live favourite and a song which seems to accumulate new musical ideas and even new meaning every time you hear it. From the supermarket din made rhythm track, the chiming of the glockenspiel playing the part of the cash till chorus, the music oozes and washes up from the aisle floor, a dystopian anthem to the banality and boredom of the dead-end job, a song gaining more and more poignancy in a world where zero-hours contracts, fleeting agency work and man as machine are becoming the norm. “When I walk through the aisles of the shadows of death I see Mars Bars!” Indeed, an anthem for the everyman, a hymn to him and her, a hypnotic death disco dirge and a wonderful slice of commentary about the modern working world of the have nots.
And that is the great thing about Grasslands. For all the live buffoonery, the fun with stuffed toys, the silliness, the puns, the wordplay and musical madness, more than any artist around at the moment, he really has something important to say about the world and its future. From environmental concerns to the changing nature of society, from the metaphysical to the mundane, from the profound to the profane, its all found within these disarmingly clever tracks.