Every so often there is a true musical "moment" when an act breaks through that is so complete, so utterly surprising, that as a music critic, I can't help but throw my hands up in the air and leave behind any hope of real criticism as each spin pushes me further into fandom. Lemon Jelly is that act of the moment.
The story starts in late 1999/early 2000 when it seemed every critic was name-dropping Lemon Jelly. Indeed, Lemon Jelly's unorthodox, vibrant, but smooth brand of electronica wowed their listeners. Only two ultra limited edition EPs (almost as highly acclaimed for their artwork as for their music), had NME placing Lemon Jelly on their "Tips for 2000" list, and Melody Maker purring over the duo of Nick Franglen and Fred Deakin in praise not heard since the rise of Suede -- and Lemon Jelly had yet to sign a record deal.
Having tracked down some of Lemon Jelly's material on Napster and on various compilations (the three EPs, Bath, Yellow, and Midnight are the most difficult to find), I could hardly contain my anticipation for the compilation, lemonjelly.ky (released in the UK in October and in the States this spring).
Signed with ultra-credible label XL Recordings (also home of Badly Drawn Boy, Prodigy and Basement Jaxx), the praise for lemonjelly.ky has begun pouring in.
Lemon Jelly use a form of programming that is touched by the best Kraut influences, while showing deference to New Order and other limeys. They blend that structure with obscure and unexpectedly enjoyable samples. Take the instructional bit from "Teach Yourself Folk Guitar" used on "The Staunton Lick", for example, and garnish it with beats both bubbly and forceful for an essential mix.
I am unabashedly fond of all three of Lemon Jelly's EPs but my favorite is Bath. Released in August of 1998, Bath opens with slinky-sounding "In the Bath", where a looping ambient intro yields to a sample of a haughty English woman asking "what do you do in the bath?" More soothing touches intervene, then with a quick snap of beats away the track goes into a lush yet catchy dreamlike pageant of sounds. From scratches to a quaint acoustic guitar hook, Lemon Jelly cover all their bases in this song. "Nervous Tension" fares just as well, seizing on glossy orchestration and a rainy, looping beat, the track initially is identifiable as the post-trip-hop era in which it was composed. However, the track transcends the limits of that era, gainfully pouring flapping basslines over Nana Mouskouri with sounds taken from what might have been a relaxation tape.
The Yellow EP begins with the eccentric and intelligent, Lion King meets lounge meets Mancini, tongue-in-cheek (I think) ode, "His Majesty King Raam" to King Nader Raam of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Global Country of World Peace. "The Staunton Lick" spins itself into a delectable, poppy but substantial weave, using an instructional tape's teaching and execution of a plucked guitar chord as its repeated point of departure and re-focus.
The Midnight EP (its package a hole-cut cover with silver strips that twinkle like stars when the sleeve is removed), features bigger beats and a swaggering, sexy cool confidence. When the super old-Skool beat box and scratching kick-in at the three-minute mark, it is clear that Lemon Jelly have even more tricks up their sleeve.
"Page One" finds Lemon Jelly in a mind-numbingly, stoned mood -- a submerged chill with more self-help-esque samples -- before gently prodding the listener back to life with mangled beats. Finally, "Come" finds a stately flow of wandering beats that coax the surely rapt listener back home, into another kind of moment.