CD review: Graham Fitkin’s Vamp & Veneer

First published in the Guardian on 5 January, 2016

Graham Fitkin: Veneer & Vamp
Fitkin Band / Melanie Pappenheim (Real World)

Veneer and Vamp make a double album, part instrumental, part vocal, that British composer Graham Firkin calls “a kind of urban symphony”. Influences include Labelle, Sly and the Family Stone, early Jacksons — it’s all classic Fitkin, from the punchy names (previous works include Flak, Cud, Pawn, Hook) to the low-fi disco vibe. There’s chintz and irony, knowing nods to lounge and muzak and a general thrust of clanging post-minimalism inherited from Fitkin’s teacher Louis Andriessen. Nervy backbeats fizzle behind warped waltzes that the Fitkin Band delivers po-face like a mechanical jewellery box with pop-up gypsy band instead of ballerina. Melanie Pappenheim channels a sweet-breathy Astrud Gilberto cool on the vocals of Veneer, but Vamp’s burly dance drive starts to feel forced: the cleanness and straightness of it all, the soloing that isn’t quite brash enough, the peppy rhythms that simmer rather than scald.