Regarded as one of the Ninja Tune label’s most playful beatmakers, Mr. Scruff has claimed that his fifth studio effort, Friendly Bacteria, is a more stripped-back and contemplative affair which “displays a depth that hasn’t been there before.”
“We Are Coming,” a chaotic party anthem filled with hype-man chants, vinyl scratching and acid house riffs, proves that the bearded DJ hasn’t entirely abandoned his cartoonish leanings—likewise, the wonky disco instrumental of “Deliverance” and the whooshing Space Invader synths which permeate the twitchy trip-hop of opener “Stereo Breath” and the bubbling electro-funk of “Where Am I?”
But thanks to an inspired array of underrated guest artists and a lesser reliance on samples, the follow-up to 2008’s Ninja Tuna, for the most part anyway, is indeed decidedly more mature, melodic and melancholic than Mr. Scruff’s previous seventeen years of noodlings.
Featuring on four of Friendly Bacteria’s twelve tracks, vocalist Denis Jones can take some of the credit, his laid-back Mancunian tones lending the evocative two-step garage of “Render Me” and the acoustic R&B folk of “Thought To The Meaning” a similar amiable stoner vibe to Ian Brown’s best work.
Neo-soul chanteuse Vanessa Freeman and Chicago house veteran Robert Owens acquit themselves just as well on the percussive dancehall-tinged “Come Find Me” and the classical-meets-electronica of “He Don’t” respectively, while the beachside-friendly closer “Feel Free” evokes the warm shores of Ipanema with its acoustic hooks, gentle brass and jazz percussion.
After such a lengthy absence, Friendly Bacteria might just be a little too low-key to attract everyone’s attention. But while it might not be Mr. Scruff’s most immediate or adventurous record to date, it’s arguably his most appealing.