Denis Jones - Humdrum Virtue

George Bass 11/04/2007

Rating: 3/5

Don't be fooled by Denis Jones' candid debut - he's playing with fire. The fact that his first LP is a singer-songwriter project where everything been dreamt up, recorded, produced and packaged by one bloke alone demonstrates a self-sufficiency on par with Felicity Kendall's bottom, but it also means that the coals heating the Damien Rice branding iron are stoked and glowing ominously. Fortunately, Jones' handiwork in the electronic arena is dextrous enough to stop The Grauniad from licencing all his output for their fantastic Sunday giveaway, and instead gives rise to a splinter genre where he can move about pretty much as he pleases without a host of protocol breathing down his neck.

The thirty-eight minutes of music he's recorded to chart his ventures bristle with inventiveness, and despite being built on prevalent foundations, you certainly couldn't accuse him of a drought when it comes to ideas. Two Slumber pulses with the chirpy saunter of Athlete on a mirrorbar comedown, while the introductory One Loop ups the synthetic side of things by embroidering acoustic licks with some 8-bit skidmarks and a volley of bubblegum beats. 'It'll never work', you might think, but the first couple of rounds alone show that Jones' audience is definitely not one confined to the bedroom domain. With its sauntering bluegrass and ambient skin, 10 Of Electricity feels like Little Red Rooster after it's been fed through one of Bernard Matthews' mangles, the abattoir alive with debauched harmonicas and pelvic thrusts of bass. Let's just hope the Stones don't go all 1991 on him and dispatch a summons for using a semiquaver they once patented.

Jones isn't afraid to take the odd breather from console manoeuvers and wave his indie union card; in fact, some of the best moments on the record are provided by just him and his six-string. Four Water is a confidently spartan affair, ripe and ready for busking with his on-the-brink-of-breaking voice set to a calmly cantered strum. It flashes up images of Sting ditching Craig David to make room for a Radiohead collaboration, and the finished product goes down surprisingly well - sort of An Englishman And Thom Yorke. If that sounds a bit too MOR for your liking then don't worry: you'll still need to keep magnetic north handy on your compass as you're quickly back off the beaten track with 17. Twittering out to imitate a gumshoe breakwater in the Summerisle celebrations, it's got a ceremonial rustic queasiness to it that would easily make Nicholas Cage's toupee stand on end. Good job the titular switcheroo of Beginning lets the sun back in to tip his hat for a rosy send-off into the gloaming. Hip hip hip hooray.

Humdrum Virtue is not an album for everyone, but the ones that get it will get it bad (as in good). Its author's sound is one that needs repeated listens to bloom, but also one that grows on you like a new pair of trainers. It might not be quite the crossover album it sets out to be, and Jones' delivery can sometimes feel more hangdog than Huckleberry Hound on his way to the gibbet, but the long and short of it is that this is a pretty happy medium. There's bits here that might make more sense when you're stoned, but there's plenty of others that can freeze you like a bolt of ketamine. Best taken in measured doses.