S/T by Short-Haired DomesticRelease date: August 21, 2020
Label: Calcium Chloride
The hint is in the song titles: ‘A song in Latin about the importance of comfortable shoes’, ‘A song in Japanese about trying things out before committing’, ‘A song in Spanish addressed to men who drive big cars’ — the eponymous album by Short-Haired Domestic is playful. Husband-wife team Tim and Lee Friese-Greene are having a blast, and the exuberant funk and silly song titles bring the listener along for a fun ride.
If you don’t know Friese-Greene’s name, you know Tim’s work: he was the producer and co-writer for several of Talk Talk’s key albums, including It’s My Life and Spirit of Eden, and produced many other notable LPs (Thomas Dolby’s Golden Age of Wireless, Catherine Wheel’s Ferment and Wishville). Short-Haired Domestic, his collaboration with wife and former Riot Grrl Lee, is all about the funk, but one can hear influences from Talking Heads to CAN scattered throughout. This funk comes in a variety of flavors and tones, from the hip-hop-edged to the New Wave-adjacent. There’s slow, drunk-tuba funk (‘A song in Hindi for insomniacs’), David Byrne funk (‘A song in Spanish…’), even New Wave funk (‘A song in Danish in which there is much discontent’).
Instrumentally and compositionally, the album is compelling and masterful. Tim Friese-Greene waves his producer’s wand to fine effect, combining samples, scratching, breakbeat loops, guitar and Wasp synth to create complex and detailed soundscapes that are delightful to the ear. For the most part, Riot Grrl graduate Lee Friese-Greene carries the vocals with a cool, smooth capacity, but the challenge of singing in nine languages (which, for the most part, Friese-Greene doesn’t speak) would be beyond the reach of most vocalists. In fact, the weakest aspect of the album is that on occasion, her clearly non-native accent pulls the listener out of the song, perhaps most noticeably on ‘A song in Latin’ and ‘A song in Japanese.’ It’s an irritation that’s hard to unhear once noticed.
But despite that distraction, the album offers delights. There’s complexity here: ‘A song in German concerning gardens and goodbyes’ starts out as minimalist electronic funk with spoken-word interludes, but midway through a breathy choral pulse weaves a ribbon of color, followed by a lengthy acoustic guitar outro that softens the end of the track. The final number, ‘A song in Yoruba about leaves, memory and time,’ is a crystalline, light-stepping modernist piece where funk, in the form of a growling bassline, is only a detour, but one which contributes shape and resonance. Short-Haired Domestic is a sunny, silly ride, full of laughter and light. And who couldn’t use a little laughter and light right now?