Published Nov 07, 2019It's hard to square the realities of 2019 with the title All News Is Good News, the debut from Australian instrumental soul band Surprise Chef. Guitarist Lachlan Stuckey chocks the name to "observation(s) that every experience you have contributes to a better understanding of yourself and the world around you." It's an argument I don't find particularly persuasive, but I suppose a world on fire and personal growth need not be mutually exclusive.
Of course, this is an instrumental album, where titles are largely irrelevant beyond serving as base identifiers, and the music itself is far less perplexing than the name. Describing themselves as purveyors of cinematic funk, with an admitted nod to the late David Axelrod's influence, Surprise Chef have delivered an engaging work rich with ideas and broad in emotional resonance.
The core band consists of a keys, drums, guitar and bass quartet, with a variety of local horn, flute and percussionists assisting throughout the album's 43-minute run. Recorded entirely in the their suburban Melbourne home studio, the compositions generally bed themselves with sparse grooves that build in interesting and unexpected ways, pulling in and out of negative space with calculated effect. Mix-wise, the songs journey across the stereo field with, at times, unconventional panning and width, centring the listener in their own experience with the material.
For the most part, I'd recommend listening to the album as a whole, but stand ut songs include the single "Blyth Street Nocturne"and the heavy kick-drum-driven "Herbie Hemphill." "Yung Boi Suite" opens with one of the most ho-hum grooves in the project, only to seemingly pause, recollect itself and delve into extremely resonate final minutes. The dark bounce of "Crayfish Caper" creeps in with restraint that gives way to synth punctuations and massive swells before returning to base melodies. Only the sub-two-minute closer "Mario's Lament" feels unnecessary, never really developing beyond its initial idea and cutting off abruptly for effect.
Surprise Chef have delivered a fantastic album demonstrating not only their musicianship and compositional skills, but also what a scrappy collective can achieve. (College of Knowledge)