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Crooked Man: Crooked Man

Track List

>Coming Up for Air
>This Machine (Kills Me)
>Girl with Better Clothes, The
>Scum (Always Rises to the Top)
>Fools and Fanatics
>Try Me
>I'll Be Loving You

Album Notes

Dance music and nursery rhyme allusions aren't the most expected pairing, but that's why Crooked Man is such an apt name for Richard Barratt's house music project. His path through the music industry has certainly been winding: he began as a DJ in '80s Sheffield; pioneered bleep techno with Sweet Exorcist in the '90s; and produced music with and for acts such as All Seeing I and Róisín Murphy in the 2000s and 2010s. As Crooked Man, Barratt (along with engineer Dave Lewin and songwriter Mick Ward) combines all of this experience on the project's transcendent full-length debut. Barratt was inspired to return to house music partly because of his work on Murphy's percolating 11-minute single "Simulation," and some of that song's influence appears on stately tracks like the whispery, dub-inflected cover of the Northern soul classic "I'll Be Loving You," or "Preset"'s bubbling cauldron of beats and bass. Barratt turned his back on house in the '90s when it became too fashionable and fashion-oriented, and Crooked Man's version of it is resolutely his own. Style isn't the same thing as fashion, and Barratt serves up a witty reminder of this on "The Girl with Better Clothes": when vocalist Rachel E intones "She's the original, all the rest are fake," it can't help but feel like a metaphor for his career. On this song and the stunning opening track, "Coming Up for Air," Crooked Man balances pop and dance, and style and substance, perfectly. In fact, the polished presentation only strengthens the political undercurrent running through many of these cuts, whether it's the biting satire of "Scum (Always Rises to the Top)," the grinding groove of "This Machine (Kills Me)," or the suave yet heartfelt lament "Fools and Fanatics," one of the album's finest showcases for Pete Simpson's soulful vocals. Even on Crooked Man's most traditional-sounding tracks, such as the euphoric finale, "Happiness," there's some of the elegant unpredictability of songs like "Try Me," where the lack of a four-on-the-floor beat is more powerful than a claustrophobic rhythm. A striking beginning to this chapter of Barratt's career, Crooked Man bears the stamp of artistic confidence that takes years to develop. ~ Heather Phares


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