Juffage - Semicircle - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Juffage - Semicircle

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2011-06-06

Juffage, aka Jeff T Smith, is a one-man sonic arsenal. A beardy music obsessive who at times borders on something approaching genius. When I saw him a year or so ago, playing at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, he was busy placing old portable stereos around the room to give his audience a kind of surround-sound, Flaming Lips-esque experience. You see, Juffage doesn't make the kind of music you can easily ignore or put to the back of your mind. His songs and his performances engage with you; reaching out to pin back your once apathetic ears.

Of course the big question now is, has Juffage managed to translate this originality and downright eccentricity to his new LP, Semicircle. The album opens with the title track, coming on like The Beatles' 'Because' mixed with No Age and a dash of Jeff Buckley. If that sounds like it could just be a confusing mess than you're half-right. It's a disorientating array of noise, balancing fuzzy feedback and sweet, angelic harmonies. Yet Juffage manages to reign in these influences so the overall effect is far from messy. In fact, it's quite beautiful.

Second piece '120/240' serves as a short interlude between two longer songs. A rather brilliant interlude too, as it channels Philip Glass' hypnotically space age compositions. This bleeds into the wonderfully euphoric 'Small Fires'. Smiths' music exists somewhere between noisy experimentalism and melancholic pop. For as much as Juffage pushes the sonic boundaries, he also knows his way around a decent melody.

The following track, 'Stop Making Music', slows the pace considerably. It finds Juffage putting some of the electronic soundscapes on hold to carve out a disarmingly lovely country-esque ballad. Around the four minute mark the song briefly explodes into a flurry of cymbals and soaring harmonies; it's a pleasingly spine tingling moment. Next up, 'Under Fanblades' introduces seasick brass arrangements to the mix with Smith singing, "I want to get out for a while…" It's a lo-fi lullaby with drunken Pavement-esque guitars and a broken jazz feel which recalls Deus' wonderfully skewed In a Bar, Under the Sea. The melancholy subsides with the arrival of the energetic and joyful 'My Weakness'. The drones, excitable electronics and chant-like vocals bring Animal Collective's recent work to mind. Which is no bad thing.

'HHV' starts with a mournful viola/cello (something mournful sounding ok?) and steadily builds around Arab Strap-indebted cheap electronics. It's quite possibly the most strikingly beautiful four-minutes-fifty-seconds of music I've heard in some time. 'HHV' shows Juffage at his best. Yes, it's pretty eccentric and yes, it's almost too clever for it's own good but just listen to it soar. Juffage isn't a machine, he makes music with heart and without that, all the talent in the world would just sound like someone showing off.

The album ends with 'Drone II', a Bongwater type excursion into cut-n-paste samples of different conversations and radio voices. It's perhaps a slightly self-indulgent way to end the album (stretching on for over five minutes) but I think we can let Mr Smith off.

Semicircle is a triumph, a sonic collage of tastefully eccentric influences and a rather special listening experience. In so many ways it shouldn't work as well as it does. Isn't it just self-indulgent? Isn't it just a mess of ideas? No, somehow Juffage has made a cohesive yet wildly entertaining album. It's enough to make any musician sick with envy, but Semicircle strikes the perfect balance between the accessible and the avant-guard. Clever bastard.

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