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The Buttless Chaps | Love This Time (Mint)
Hardly a crowded area of the market, Canadian quartet The Buttless Chaps describe their music as "electro-country". Preconceptions don't bode well admittedly, but please bear with me. 'Love This Time' is the bands' fourth album so  they must have been doing something right. 'Love This Time' is their first outing for Mint Records, a label with some pedigree as it's also the Canadian home to both Neko Case and The New Pornographers among others. Hinting at what to expect from the contents, the album is impressively packaged in an eye-catching cover - an apparently isolated forest shack silhouetted against a swirling multicoloured dusk revealed to lie just a short distance from a sprawling futuristic metropolis.
Fortunately, at least for the most part, the band don't attempt a wholesale fusion of electro and country although there are some worrying forays into such territory. A few tracks demonstrate a competence at electro-pop leanings, but Shuttle Systems for example is frankly far too close to early Depeche Mode for comfort. Then again, Ford Pier, one of several guests, has a lot of fun on the electro-new wave blast of Numan. Good fun.
The Buttless Chaps' best material though, some of it truly exceptional, hints at bands like Lambchop as much as anyone else - from their ability to layer and overlap the instrumentation so deftly to the subtle absorption of country and other musical influences to ultimately create, at their most successful, something quite distinctly their own. Opener, 18 Rabbits is a fabulous track, Dave Gowan's half-spoken, half-sung baritone fronting a tune driven along by a lightly brisk rhythm amidst a wonderful arrangement incorporating trumpet, French horn and clarinet. This is followed by the title track with its futuristic vocoder-affected vocals complemented by a lovely guest vocal by Radiogram's Ida Nilsen, which eventually segues into Bubbles, a delicately simple and evocative piece, underscored by gently plucked banjo. On Lovely Hearts, Neko Case' cohort Carolyn Mark chips in another guest vocal, the song's more twang-inflected backing one of the most overly country inspired tunes here.
The album does have its peaks and troughs and a marriage of such incongruous genres as electro and country won't appeal to everyone. Consequently 'Love This Time' is definitely worth checking but some fine-tuning next time out could result in something much more special.

Geraint Jones
March-April 2004

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