Need the Characters was my album of 2016 and a record I have truly gormandised on, loving every single beat per minute and worshipping at its alter for months with repeated daily listens. So it is with nervous anticipation I plug the jack-to-jack from my laptop to my Bose, jack-knife myself into a sitting position, crack open a cold Scrumpy Jacks, and hit play on the advanced download copy of Jackal Trades…
To let you know things are about to change drastically we’re checking in where we left off, the beat’s already trademark phat and funky like any good Trades choon, the bass thumping like a jackhammer and bouncing like jackrabbits. Expertly mixed by one of my fave artist/producers Mistah Bohze with his trademark boogaloo slant! But this opening track is a transitionary moment, where we leave behind the sound and composition of Need The Characters, and slide into a whole new Jackal skin, an evolution (or devolution) of the old sound, metamorphosing into an entirely new beast.
Jackal Trades and a battalion of DJs and producers, ready to set the scene on fire and create musical alchemy once more! Physiks provides a nice melody for the second song as Mark finally wrestles out of his straitjacket and climbs like a supplejack into the verse, with signature nostalgic themes and lyric-weaving dexterity firmly backed by Jo D’Arc (Twistettes). The song is somewhat semi-biographical and the album already has the feel of a concept album which I think is what’s to come, a semi-autobiographical oeuvre, with each track flowing into the next and telling a saga.
A shady, ominous beginning for ‘The House That Jack’, as Mark laments about knockbacks from bouncers “everybody in the house that loves house music but never got allowed in the house to ever prove it”; a scallywag of a tune. Josephine Sillars, Mistah Bohze, Doghouse and Ant Thomaz lend skillz on this spooky, weird, but brilliant slice of madness with a thumping beat that reverberates right down in your chest cavity produced by Laigo, a song worthy of the album’s “single”.
‘She Served You, Right’ is an expression of grief for loves lost disguised under a thin veil of comedy. The whole album is told from the perspective of a crackerjack jackanapes named “Jack”, it’s immediately apparent that this is not a sequel to Need The Characters, except maybe as a sequel to that one track ‘Jack The Lad’, and even then they’re only related lyrically, and if anything it’s more like a prequel, as the material seems to be unfolding Jack’s past like dirty laundry, leaving your vision impaired like one sock in a puzzle.
Becci Wallace is a name that crops up a lot around the local music scene, providing her talented vocs to everyone from Loki to Mackenzie and on the magnificent ‘Marilyn Monroe Logic’ on the last JT album, as well as having plenty of good original material herself. She appears here on ‘Chaos Nights’. A dark, demented hip-hop dirge with harrowing deliverance and some word-bending verses from Mark, (as well as a little singing from him too). This album is drug-drenched, encompassing and highlighting all the dark and light sides of drug culture, from addiction, to rehab, to the fun times spent inebriated and to the hope for the future after the comedown has worn off many years later. https://www.facebook.com/becciwallacemusic/
Andy Martin produced arguably my fave track from Need The Characters, ‘I Am The Fear’, and he provides here a wheezy, strange, unique beat for a humorous conversation between ‘Jack’ and some hallucination named the Trip Hazard Advisor he encountered tripping out to a Pink Floyd film, ‘Schemedelica’. Quality quaalude interlude! https://www.facebook.com/andymartin90beats/
The elusive Gordy Duncan Jr crops up (his presence marked by the cool drumbeat) for ‘Badvisor’ another nostalgic retrospective on roguish days gone by. Jack is very much a rogue, and this is a roguish record, making it a picaresque concept album, with plenty of charm. Good beats, great lyrics and eclecticness are the triangle trademark of any Trades work and this album is no exception! Lots of good keyboard effects on this record which will translate well to the live three-piece. Was that a menshie for the Dijon van?
‘I Can See Patterns’, continuing the psychedelic/drugs theme, scientific lyrics followed by more retrospective, a very chilled out offering. The whole album is worlds apart from the previous one, lo-fi, trip-hop, and much more introspective and conceptual, a brooding mix of moody songs stirred in a cauldron of wistful reminiscence. Mark’s always making tons of subtle references that link back to previous lyrics or whatever, casual wordplays that will take a few listens to completely absorb, as is characteristic of him.
Scatabrainz producing, and another heartbroken song of melancholy melody with some very nice guitar, that almost sounds like a harp or a lyre and might well be. A stargazer of a song, bringing ‘cosmic reassurance’ in the ‘Multiverse of Sleep’.
Another prolific female name in the hip hop scene is Becca Starr (MOG, Loki, Van Dammage, Wee D, Steg G & The Freestyle Master) providing the haunting vocs for ‘One Star From The Gutter’. A sorrowing tale of incarceration and youth gone bad, with a comical twist as the narrator rates prison one star on Trip Advisor. Everything about this album has that feel of good Scottish hip hop, which has its own distinctive genre/sound these days basically, and I don’t just mean the accent on the vocs, I mean the feel of the music which Scottish hip hop artists and producers tend to gravitate towards.
There are loads of themes in this album to try and pick out, they are stitched expertly throughout the whole sheet of lyrics, I’ll let you spot them all for yourself. Although a lot of the album is macabre, the humour still shines through in parts too, illuminating the dark path as you chase the light, like Lanark tripping through the backstreets of an alternative dystopian Glasgow, yearning to leave the shadows for the sun. In fact, the front cover of the album has a sort of Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark’ feel to it, (for those who haven’t read it the book is told from the perspective of an alternative Glasgow landscape with locations like Lanark and Unthank) and indeed this album could well have been written by a character in those semi-fictional environments. The album sounds like it was produced and recorded in Lanark by one of its poets in the attic of The Elite Café on a drizzly Saturday night!
More shamanic exercises now with ‘Death of the Centre’, and Laigo reappears with a jacked-up military-style beat, nice and top-heavy. I switch my Bose speaker to headphones instead and fully immerse myself, it was a good move, this music is even more banging on earphones, surprisingly banging for an LP that is always lurking in the muddy waters of lo-fi trip-hop.
‘Note to Self-Destruct’ next, downtempo, post hip-hopalyptic, alternative-reality rap, with a dark, foreboding sociopolitical commentary. Also featuring Sev Ka, and expertly produced by Asthmatic Astronaut. https://www.facebook.com/hellosevka/
A delighting cameo from John McMustard of the Dijon 5 (his first album colab as far as I know), on ‘Suspiciously American Drug Education’, a song which raps you over the head like a blow from a blackjack. Mark did a brilliant verse for ‘These Are Not The Drugs’ which made me fall in love with that song, and the Colonel returns the favour by providing an indie chorus for an eerie song, I would have liked to have heard him maybe do his own wee verse but the condi-mental mustardo does not indulge us. Who but Mark would think to rhyme ‘eywiz’ with ‘highrise’, brilliant, and a beat that’s somehow both endearing and unsettling at the same time!? Another belter!
‘Commercial Advice’ is a wobbly, trippy track, where Mark asked fans to voice-record and provide their best pieces of advice by email, then they could appear on this song. I did do one of my own “if you shove a Toblerone up your arse be sure to let the corners melt before you pull it out”, but I missed the deadline because I wasted so long trying to figure out how to attach a voice memo to an email by phone! (I still don’t know how to do it!). This track is reminiscent of the end of Darkside of the Moon, where Pink Floyd recorded the crew and roadies answering specific questions and mixed them into the outro of ‘Eclipse’. There’s a lot of Floydian influence on Mark, he referenced ‘See Emily Play’ on ‘Triangular Trades’, and ‘Bill Hicks Fans’ was a very Floyd-like song, he continues to reference them a couple of times on Trip Hazard Advisor, but that’s a good thing, they are the single greatest band to ever walk the face of the Earth!
‘Jack To The Future!’ “The older I get the less likely I’ll be dead, wish I could send this in a memo to my teenage head”, I can relate to that, once you’ve passed the twenty-seven club you’re a Rolling Stone, you’re never gonna’ die! Ha-ha. An easy-going (almost jazz-like in its deliverance) track, with plenty of witty apothegms from the lyrics and an LSD freak-out at the end to shake you back out of your peaceful reverie.
There are less of Mark’s breakneck tongue-twisting lyrics on this album, adopting more of a laid-back-Jack indie feel instead sometimes, and saving his lungs perhaps, but there is no less raconteur skills, and narrative-sewing on the tapestry of his inner-most thoughts, which he hangs on the wall in the form of an audio collage of variegated DJs and mixed producers. The paintstrokes of a demented genius adding colour to a grey canvass of memories.
‘Two Star Poet Reviews, A Three Star Hotel’ is similar in its deliverance to one of my faves, ‘Bill Hicks’, it skyjacks your mind and takes you on a nebulous flight, an ambient soundtrack to it and the tranquil vocals of Jo D’Arc adding to that perfectly. Mark chops through the verses like a lumberjack through wood, he splits, like the logs, into two personalities throughout this whole album, himself and ‘Jack’, the resulting firewood and tinder stoke the flames which produce this bonfire of sounds and ideas, so that we may feast on the barbeque of this experimental music release . The song rounds off an LP that is full of depth, wisdom, and has great character (guess he found the characters he needed). You never know what to expect from Jackal Trades, an artist never afraid to stretch its tentacles out and probe every available artform.
This article now sits at 1,850 words, concise is the one word I missed in the dictionary, despite the dictionary’s title being ‘Collin’s Concise English Dictionary’ in big white letters on the front, but an album with this much depth requires an in-depth review. Usually when I do a review I do a stoned first draft and bang it straight out for good or worse, but I uncharacteristically held back for this one. I’m glad I did, because Trip Hazard Advisor needs one listen just to appreciate the whole different direction we’re travelling in now, it takes a second listen to absorb the beats and then multiple more listens to digest the adroit lyrical wordplay and the vicissitudes of the storytelling. And every time you hear it it grows on you a little more and a little more, like Lanark’s dragonhide. An unexpected, but no less fantastic, creation! Bon appetite my friends! https://jackaltrades.bandcamp.com/album/trip-hazard-advisor
Don’t forget to attend the album launch as part of Musicians Against Homelessness at the Barras on 29th Sept https://www.facebook.com/events/164801594331690/ alongside an incredible line up!
Alternatively, on the same night, Yoko Pwono headline NHC’s 4th bi-annual Carnival of Dark Arts https://www.facebook.com/events/438143089971009/
Seeya’ in the pit!
C.T Herron (NHC Gonzo Div.)