Red Snapper Mete Out The Groove

Making Bones is dark, even a little mean, but is ultimately enticing.

Red Snapper make music that's like a dark alley leading to a candy store — your first steps into it will be tentative, but there's a reward waiting at the end.

The spin in the UK is that Red Snapper are a drum & bass band — making electronic music with instruments instead of computers. Snapper describe their sound as "fuck-off jazz," giving no quarter to noodling or wasteful expenditures of notes.

Both descriptions are a little disingenuous.

Only two or three tracks of Making Bones — the frenetic "Like a Moving Truck" (RealAudio excerpt), for one — feature skittering drum & bass–style rhythms. Besides, most of those that do feature Richard Thair's live drum work — no small achievement. And while the LP has no cheesy jazz solos, Red Snapper seem perfectly willing to explore all the space inside a groove, even if it takes a while.

Still, it's hard to come up with an adequate description of Red Snapper, because they're so wily. Firmly rooted in the dance-music world, the bandmembers — among them, Thair, guitarist David Ayers and stand-up bassist Ali Friend — nevertheless aren't hiding behind computers and keyboards. With the occasional trumpet or vocalist, the result is spare, forceful and just unusual enough to spark interest.

As on Roni Size's New Forms (1997), the sound is anchored by the acoustic double-bass — a rich, resonant sound not usually found in dance music. The deep thump fills enough space to let the drum and guitar play spare lines without leaving gaping holes.

The album's sound is economical, with not a single note out of place. In combination with MC Det's raps or Byron Wallen's restrained trumpet — especially on the New Orleans-esque "Bogeyman" (RealAudio excerpt) — the result is either breakbeat-influenced jazz or a new kind of futuregroove.

However, with traditional diva-style vocals, the formula collapses. No disrespect to Alison David's talents, which would fit nicely on a Massive Attack album, but her soulful, arguably overwrought singing on "Image of You" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Seeing Red" swamps the mix and excessively embellishes Red Snapper's carefully tended sonic space. It's like a Chippendale armoire in a Zen rock garden.

There's nothing groundbreaking about Making Bones. Red Snapper don't go many places that Size, Portishead, or Medeski, Martin & Wood haven't gone before. But that doesn't diminish their achievement. Making Bones creates and sustains a coherent, expressive atmosphere that, while familiar, belongs solely to itself. Dark, even a little mean, but ultimately enticing, Red Snapper mete out the groove in exacting doses.