When last we reviewed Ed Stones and the BD3 it was for their quite excellent album ‘cook book’ (you can read what we had to say about that record here). Little did we know that, even as we reviewed the album, Ed and his band were already back in the studio recording the seventeen-track follow-up and the result is ‘down on the farm’. Offering up a similar variety and awash with the same ragged charm that so appealed on ‘cook book’, ‘down on the farm’ is an original and frequently brilliant album that captures and retains the attention throughout.
The album opens with the gently-strummed ‘Gullible girl’ which, as with the last record, transports us off to the deep south with its jangly guitar and distorted vocal. It’s a more restrained opener than might have been expected, but it eases the listener in and as the band are cued in over the course of the song, so it builds up to the more full-blooded piece we expected from the band. The track segues neatly into the pulsing ‘Registered insanity’ which has a jarring urgency in its grinding riffs that recalls Sonic Youth at their most pop infused and accessible. It’s an early and immediate highlight and it marks out the band as a group unafraid to expand their horizons into new, dangerous territory. The band slow things down for the nimble ‘best friends’ which sounds like Madness covering The Cure (if you can picture such a thing), but once again the whole is given cohesion by Ed whose personality is writ large across these otherwise varied tracks. We’re off into skewed punk territory once again for the bizarre ‘sex in disguise’ which rocks out in the most incongruous manner possible (think Graham Coxon rather than Steve Jones). It’s a harder-edged Ed Stones than we saw on the previous outing, but still recognisable in the gleeful way both he and his band cannibalise genres in order to take what they need and mould it into their own unique style. The blues finally gets a look in on the dark shuffle of ‘step into my shoes’ with its slide guitar and harmonica fills. This is the closest the album has come yet to repeating the sound of ‘Cook book’, only for the brilliantly titled ‘fuck you and your tweets’ to swagger into view with a bluesy riff and punk attitude that is all its own. The band undergo another stylistic transformation with ‘gotta slow down’ which takes the indie of the long-lost Strangelove and adds a funky shuffle before ‘the stalker’ gets dark and dirty as Ed and his band explore the same street we last saw inhabited by Nick Cave and his ‘red right hand’.
It’s a warm, dusty wind that blows on ‘get down’ with its falsetto vocals, bluesy foundation and indie vibe whilst ‘lady owl eyes’ digs into Ska with its gently delayed beat and guitar stabs slowly building a dream-like atmosphere. Ed and his band can ‘t just leave the listener floating, however, and we’re plunged headfirst into the proto-punk of ‘Runaround’ which acts like a dash of cold water with its quivering riffs and whiplash beat. The sun beats down on the dry-as-a-bone ‘dead dog’ before the emotional ‘please don’t say goodbye’ takes a closer look at the inner workings of Ed Stones than any other track on here. The hypnotic ‘let your mind unwind’ is a late album highlight with its tick-tock guitar and trip hop vocal intelligently dissecting the modern-day obsession with media soundbites over fact (made all the pertinent in the wake of recent political developments on both sides of the pond). In contrast ‘fuck all day’ is probably the album’s sole throwaway track and the juxtaposition with the previous track is doubly unfortunate. The album reaches an end with the incongruously down-at-heel country-blues of the title track, although a hidden bonus track, ‘Jambo Unchained’ adds a darker hue to the album’s conclusion.
Tentatively I would have placed Ed Stones and his merry band in the blues category with ‘Cook book’, although even at the time I noted the variety of that album. But on this record Ed Stones and the BD3 have expanded their palette ever further and the result is an album that crackles with the innovative energy of the mid-90s indie scene, drawing from a wide range of acts both English and Trans-Atlantic. References abound and, over the course of the album, you’ll hear hints of Blur, The Cure, Cable, 13th Floor elevators, Sonic Youth and Madness without ever once feeling like Ed Stones and the BD3 are doing anything than following their own unique muse. The album flows beautifully with tracks neatly segued together in places and, overall, the album seeks to recall the golden era of indie where genres per se didn’t matter and the only limit to a band’s sonic exploration was their imagination rather than some spurious set of rules contrived by journalists and fans unable, or unwilling, to explore realms outside of their own experience. Wider in scope than ‘Cook book’, ‘down on the farm’ is a musical treat that will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the wide-eyed genre exploration of the mid-90s and is well worth exploring. 9