“It’s like Mothers era Zappa having an affair with Isaac Hayes”
That was how The Sleeping Shaman boss summed up Fontanelle’s Vitamin F when sending over the album. “Feel free to use that in the review” he said, so I have because it’s actually a really decent summary.
A pretty uncharacteristic release for Southern Lord, especially given the sort of nu-crust trend the label seems to have settled into of late. If I’m being a bit cynical, I’d guess that Southern Lord are simply trying to nurture or win over a newer younger following with releases from the likes of Heartless; but this record from Fontanelle is aimed – if anywhere – at the older, beard-stroking Southern Lord contingent; the generally mosh-pit averse types who are more interested in the likes of Oren Ambarchi or the noodling jazz trad-doom of Orthodox.
Putting that broad division aside, Fontanelle’s ‘Vitamin F’ still stands out a fair bit on a label which mostly flies the flag for heavy guitar music – even if it is sometimes the more avante-garde end of things like Ascend and (of course) SunnO))). Quite strange then to hear an album released by Southern Lord that you would best describe, in a word, as ‘jazz’. Just how exactly Southern Lord devotees will feel about this record is anyone’s guess, but I personally think this is one of the best things the label has put out lately. It’ll be interesting to see if this release marks a real diversification in Southern Lord’s output or if it’s just a one off – either way, good on ‘em for releasing this cracking little oddity.
‘Vitamin F’ is like perfect stake-out music from some weird, non-existent neo-Blaxploitation sci-fi film. Imagine a sort of typical detective film set in an alternate future space-age reality where somehow all the stylistic hallmarks and influence of the late 1960’s and the 70’s have remained… if you can. ‘Bitches Brew’ era Miles Davis is boldly but artfully mixed with the sort of noises and sound effects normally associated with dub – or the Starship Enterprise. Occasionally (for example on ‘Traumaturge’) you’ll suddenly get an absolutely belting guitar riff – but only for a short time before it’s subtly deconstructed to seamlessly give way to a heady afrobeat jazz freakout with some almost absurdly heavy fuzzed-out bass. There’s so much that feels completely familiar about this music, but at the same time loads of new and potentially mismatched ideas are being thrown into the mix to create something compelling and really cool – and I mean like Isaac Hayes cool (cheers Lee).
I’ve chucked around the term ‘Jazz’ quite a bit – unavoidably really – but that shouldn’t put anyone off at all; this is not dull as ditch water smooth jazz or extended, self-indulgent, freeform fret-wank – this album is bloody good fun. There’s definitely jazz here, but it’s not po faced or pretentious (or Michael Buble), and they’ve managed to pull off something that could’ve been so easily kitsch without any sense of it seeming absurd or ridiculous – just loads of ideas and loads of fun. And there’s a real sense of musicians actually enjoying themselves – I can only imagine it’d be brilliant to see live. Difficult to know how this album will be received sitting on a label like Southern Lord, but if the likes of Bohren and Der Club of Gore have managed to break onto alternative heavy line-ups like those of Supersonic Festival and ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas then hopefully I’ll be able to catch Fontanelle somewhere next year between seeing Bong and Squarepusher or something – imagine that!
Scribed by: Chris Moore