Farmer Pimp: Sweet Hot Pepper Pop (Family Farm)

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Farmer Pimp: Honey Bee
Farmer Pimp: Sweet Hot Pepper Pop (Family Farm)

In a recent interview New Zealand singer/songwriter Claire Holmes from Farmer Pimp noted, "Other people worry more about what our genre might be than we do. That's actually why we called the album Sweet Hot Pepper Pop. We decided to make up our own genre".

Very smart -- and certainly the odd band name gives no real clue to what they do.

So let's just say that this album is a showcase for a much hyphenated genre of their own which is trip-hop influenced as much as it is jazzy-pop-cum-world music (is that a Japanese koto on the quirky Disney Love, and an Indian gopichand on the cabaret-grunge-pop of the P-Money-arranged Honey Bee?) and draws on an impressively talented cast playing sax (Cameron Allen), weird percussion . . .

Oh, and Holmes has a very r'n'b vocal style which owes more to the understated soul end (Duffy) than the over-emoting of Pop Idol contestants. 

But if this hit list of eclecticism sounds a bit over-the-top (more hyphens) then be assured, that isn't the case at all. In the hands of producer Mark Michel, these songs breathe easily and never fall under the weight of their sometimes cleverly complex arrangements.

There's a spaciousness here -- so it comes as no surprise that some of these songs are undergoing remixes (Minuit for El Roboto, Pitch Black and Kerretta on others apparently).

But what's here is certainly memorable in its own right. 

The Shine is pure r'n'b pop with a repeated piano figure; Inside My Head creeps along over a plucked and swooning violin while Holmes sings out a seductive vocal line; Like No One Else has a jazzy break-down with a parping horn section, gypsy-jazz piano from John-Paul Muir and a woozy trumpet solo by Finn Scholes.

Way Back Home has a natty stop-start funk feel; Fear and White Noise is a love song which takes place in a strange cabaret or maybe an opium den in some soulful r'n'b end of the city; Pieces of Eight has steel drums and tricky horns. . . 

If there is a problem it's that over the long haul we might say Holmes broadcasts on a narrow frequency and rarely extends her range. There are places you wish she'd soar or dig deeper, if only to add breadth and texture.

That said, it is the sheer sense of the musically unexpected which propels this. All those hyphens make for an album which constantly has surprises around the next corner. I doubt you'd predict the lovely simplicity of Tide Rolls In right at the end. 

In that same interview Holmes said, "We're perfectionists" and you'd have to agree.

This is an intelligent, quirky, listenable, pleasingly-hyphenated album. You really deserve to hear it -- maybe just two or three tracks at a time initially.

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shaun - May 23, 2010

There is more sweetness-and-pop than hot-pepper to this album, but overall, that is no bad thing. I think New Zealand has sometimes struggled with locally grown, smart and musically literate pop music, much to our detriment. Some of the songs here (“The Shine” and “El Roboto”, at the very least) should really be on high rotate (but not too high- we want to keep the punters wanting more) on both campus and commercial radio.

With a bit of tweaking (meeting the requirements of a “dolly zoom”, a broken toy and the character “Sydney Manson- a fabricator”, and the line “when you put it that way”) , the fantastic video for “Like No One Else” would surely have been a winner in the 48 Hour Film Festival ( “Rom-Com” category. A heart-warming and heart-breaking 4 minutes and 38 seconds of visual delight (and mortification) beautifully supports one of the stand-out tracks of the album. The warmth and human passion of the wind section (Finn Scholes on Trumpet and Flugel; Cameron Allen on Sax) along with the perfect percussion and piano of, respectively, Glen Child and John-Paul Muir, have a reminiscence of Sola Rosa’s almost mariachi feel (ahh, perhaps that’s the “hot-pepper”!) on the albums “Moves On” and “Get It Together”, and beautifully propel Claire Homes’ best vocals of the album. Believe me, that is high praise indeed.

“Fear and White Noise” reminds me a bit of Madonna at the time of “Ray of Light”- and while that may reflect badly (on me!), I think it works well with a slight hip-hop/dream-pop quality to it. In some ways it is maybe a bit out-of-kilter but the lovely interplay of vocals keeps it together.

I get what Graham is saying about the Claire’s vocals. They are unusual, but affecting. Rather than the her voice wearing a bit thin, I think slightly more judicious editing of this generally strong recording might have helped. For me, it is mainly the last three songs that I struggle to retain focus for- and at over 5 minutes long for each, this is (to my ears) a significant mis-step for an album that is mostly engaging. Oddly, I get “Pieces of Eight” (the longest on the album at 6:37)) a bit more than the last two, and imagine it might be a great live song.

A band who I had not heard of previously, but am thoroughly pleased to have holding its place comfortably in the CD player at home for quite a while yet.

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