I got a brief message from Phil Scragg back in the autumn informing me of the existence of a trio called Milkbone, citing Canterbury influences, which might be suitable for review on the Facelift blog. I wasn’t really writing much at the time, being somewhat immersed in research, and, other than mentioning its existence on the Facebook group, put it somewhat on the back burner. But, as with all good albums, it slowly wormed its way into the subconscious, and here, many months later, is a review:
Milkbone are a trio consisting of Scragg, James Sedge and Matt Berry, and, if you’re thinking the latter name might be familiar, yes it is indeed that Matt Berry, best known in a variety of comic roles over the last 20 years, although for some years he has had a musical sideline in Matt Berry and The Maypoles which features all 3 musicians here. Milkbone’s vinyl only release came and went in its limited edition format almost immediately, and although I was lucky enough to hear a digital version in advance it was only relatively recently that it’s popped up in both bandcamp and CD format.
The Canterbury influence is certainly there but in terms of overall impact is just one of many components: the whole album is diverse, clean, upbeat, exploratory progressive music of the first order, apparently recorded remotely by the three main proponents, but sounding no less coherent for that.
The opening track ‘Canterbury’ actually echoes those other neo-progressives Zopp in its wide open, symphonic keyboards and bass pedals, topped off with hints of Groove Armada within the trombone solo from Graham Mann, but the album really starts to gather pace with ‘Leaving Hawksbill’ which bristles with Electric Orange-like funkiness (‘Bleak Strategy’ ploughs a similar furrow) and rarely draws for breath thereafter.
If the album’s greatest earworm is the untypical piano motif of ‘Automatic Foot’ this track is soon subsumed by a rather fine fuzz bass contribution, starting with a very Vol Two like countertheme but continuing with a meandering solo more akin to John Greaves with National Health.
Elsewhere ‘Milkbone’ (the track) is imbued with Seventies style gangster cheesiness, atmosphere and electric piano noodlings, and beyond the strident grooves of ‘Cecilia’, the album winds down with its only vocal contribution, courtesy of Harriet Langley on ‘Velvet Black’, where that trombone also returns… But the standout track for me may well be ‘Soft Weed’, a beautifully melodic ambient piece which as much as its obvious reference point has a touch of the ‘Floating Worlds’ about it.
As both Scragg and Berry are credited with guitar and keyboards (Sedge is the drummer) it’s difficult to dissemble the exact contributions of each, but what I can tell you is that the bass (played by Phil Scragg) is superb throughout, managing to fit into some both Hopperesque fuzz , fretless growlings and pinpoint clear punctuations. The drums too are razor sharp, and propel many tracks along with a live drum and bass energy (see ‘Red Shift’) which are another of the band’s defining features. And the range of keyboard sounds throughout dip into many a familiar Canterbury canon.
In drawing comparisons to Zopp as another of the newest ‘Canterbury’ bands off the block, one thing that struck me was that Milkbone are at an advantage that I think this music could be reproduced live, and whilst I am not sure there are any plans to do so, that would be a mouthwatering prospect…