AAndy Votel has spent a few years in rather accelerated evolution. At 24 years old, he has quickly advanced from a Manchester club DJ to a part-time remixer/producer (Texas, Ian Brown, Badly Drawn Boy) to the co-founder of a record label with some ill-named act called “Badly Drawn Boy”. Now, of course, BDB has a Mercury Music Prize in hand; Votel’s Twisted Nerve label still holds the BDB but also features up-and-comers Dakota Oak Trio, Alfie, and Mum & Dad; and Votel keeps mixing and has also released a lazily lovely mini-album, Styles of the Unexpected. Call Votel the Mancunian, indie answer to Puffy Combs if you like.
Styles of the Unexpected is actually quite predictable if one has heard Votel’s remix work or his collaborations with BDB, but predictability doesn’t detract from what is a nicely focused debut. Hypnosis, cello-driven orchestration, seedy electronica—these remain the main themes. “Urbanite Rocks” is a fitting introduction. Waves of synth, touched by xylophone-derived sound, lean forward, dusted with a few samples before a live (or seemingly so) rhythm section joins in with aplomb. Unexpectedly (truly), strings and then breakbeats arrive for a mess of sound equally rooted in the French jazz-pop of Gainsbourg, the German experimentation of Neu! and Can, and the old-fashioned hip-hop of the East Coast variety.
Singer/songwriter Jane Weaver (also Votel’s girlfriend) adds the lyrics and vocals to the dizzyingly trippy “Girl on a GoPed”. Snarling, free-form jazz, with a loop and beat hook recalling the best of the mid-nineties Bristol sound, sketches the landscape for Weaver’s vocals. Underneath her lulling but dank narrative—“Never thought you had a problem ‘cos your girlfriend was pretty / Never thought you had a problem ‘cos the weather was fine”—lies a second vocal track composed of Weaver’s untimely and most uncomfortable laughter while motors rev, water rushes, and the strings and bass sulk and swoon.
“Return of the Spooky Driver” is equally unsettling. The track, largely a transition piece, seems to take the least assaulting sample from Primal Scream’s “Kill All Hippies”, matching it with some BDB filler on top of a highly repetitive few bars of piano while Nick Gadman’s guitars intermittently dash through in anxious fashion before the distress is alleviated in a surf-rock furl. I respect the track even as it jars me toward madness. “Pickpocket”, though tempered by cello, also has the repetition and atonality that can make elements of a BDB show suicidally frustrating, as when Damon Gough decides he will require the audience to boo loudly before allowing the band to stop.
“Diode” is initially cinematic in scope, its ethereal stretches only disturbed by hand-struck drums hinting at the South American beach. Yet, amid brushes of percussion more typical of the record, Votel warps the track into quickly breaking volleys of hip-hop, carrying the hand-played drums along for continuity. “Doe-Eyed” is unfortunately not so inventive; its contemplative nature crosses the border into boredom.
“RiderBrow” assures that Styles of the Unexpected won’t slip off into tediousness, however. Lee Gorton adds vocals that begin in Yorke-ian and somniferous terms, accompanied by the most minimal guitars and synth. Votel adds Matt McGeever’s cello, a more active rhythm section, and an under-utilized organ that carry the track to the album’s best (and most unexpected) up-tempo movement. While Styles of the Unexpected surely won’t place Votel in the company of his mate BDB anytime soon, songs like “Urbanite Rocks”, “Girl on a GoPed”, and “RiderBrow” make this debut very respectable.