Mr. Scruff Friendly Bacteria

Mr. ScruffFriendly Bacteria
Sometimes less is indeed more, and that's a notion that Andy Carthy (a.k.a. Mr. Scruff) seems to have taken to heart on his fifth album. Eschewing the abundant orchestration and quirky humour synonymous with previous releases like 1999's Keep It Unreal or 2008's Ninja Tuna (no fish or aquatic references this time around), Friendly Bacteria is Scruff's sparsest, grittiest, most digestible offering to date. "Stereo Breath" (one of four collaborations with vocalist Denis Jones) opens the set with an oscillating and almost menacing bass line that's counterpointed by Jones' tender vocal.

Instrumental cuts like the jerky electro-funk of "Deliverance," the moody, sci-fi slow-burn of the title track and the aggressive, trippy acid-house nod "We Are Coming" up the bump factor. The melancholic "He Don't," featuring a darkly vulnerable turn from Robert Owens, and the tranquil two-step fantasia of "Come Find Me" (with Vanessa Freeman on vocals) are adult romantic snapshots that showcase Scruff's continuing production growth.

Sometimes Scruff's blending just doesn't take — hear the monotonous folk-reggae hybrid "Catch Sound" — but that's the only bad spot on an otherwise solid album. Scruff's in his forties but the assured, mature Friendly Bacteria is the antithesis of a mid-life crisis. (Ninja Tune)