Whether he’s filling our speakers with a chilly white noise that somehow finds some warmth in the melody it churns out in “Scrotum,” hammering away at a patient beat in the progressive “Despite Everything,” redefining surreal pop using punk rock aesthetics in Slug,” slashing a simplistic harmony to shreds (poetically, mind you) in “How Long” or unfurling a blustery groove with surgical precision in the Dylan-esque “Spandex Boy,” Badgertrap is making one thing perfectly clear to listeners in his new album Man Shed Head Crisis – for this chapter of his career, he isn’t holding anything back for anyone.
To say there’s nothing typical about this new LP from one of the United Kingdom’s most-discussed underground singer/songwriters would be too grand an understatement for any self-respecting critic to make – myself included – and yet beneath the flamboyant, though DIY-inspired, theatrics and virtuosic use of ambient textures, there’s a familiarity here that all who love complex melodicism in the style of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground should immediately find charming. Badgertrap isn’t quite Howard James Kenny, but in Man Shed Head Crisis, he incontrovertibly reestablishes himself as one of the best indie players currently active in his corner of the world.
Right from the get-go in my first session with this album, I found “Wax,” “No Time for a Crap,” “Young Girls” and “Well Up For It” to be excellent examples of this artist’s increased boldness from within the recording studio, and while these songs are undeniably experimental in every sense, they don’t include any artificial elements (nor do they drift so far from the mainstream that their appeal would be restricted to hardcore underground buffs exclusively). The master mix here is phenomenal from top to bottom, allowing us unguarded access to the tonal intricacies of “Slug,” “Despite Everything” and “Just Like School” while steering clear of the excesses that other players in Badgertrap’s league have had trouble managing in their own work. I’d love to hear all of this material live sometime, especially “Cat Food Gerry” and “Just Like School,” and if he could find a way to bring the same amount of muscularity into an in-person performance as he did here in the studio, it could make for an unmissable show to say the least.
I loved what I heard in Badgertrap’s 2009 LP Human Sweet Shop, but in the eleven years that have gone by since that record’s original release date, I think he’s gotten even better at this craft than he was back then. In Man Shed Head Crisis, Badgertrap doesn’t just step outside of his comfort zone compositionally; he invites all of us to indulge in his experiments alongside him, making us feel as though we’re bearing witness to an improvisational set built around a couple of pre-rehearsed ideas coming to life in real-time before our very ears.
He’s proven himself to be far more ‘alternative’ in his style than most any of his generational contemporaries could claim to be, and as I see it, he’s one of the most important indie artists to watch this season.