Fat White Family have a lot to answer for. Basing themselves out of a rundown Brixton pub around the time Margaret Thatcher finally shuffled off this mortal coil they inadvertently created a scene of socially savvy, down on their luck but artistically relevant musicians, arguably more at home in the lower echelons of the music industry than they were down the Job Centre. In a world of pawn shops and porn shops some bands are designed only really to exist in the spit and sawdust backrooms of the social clubs where Sleaford Mods meets Only Fools and Horses. While Meatraffle and Lola Colt prop up the bar next door and Insecure Men prepare the cheese rolls upstairs, Hot Sauce Pony (the name implies something off a Sopranos soundtrack) doggedly rehearse their lo-fi arty ska. For fans of new wave heroes like The Slits and the Blockheads they seem searching for that under-the-counter Robert Wyatt nous Ian Dury always alluded to, so for their debut full length offering, the ultra-indie Brixton Hillbilly label is the band’s spiritual home.
Of course Hot Sauce Pony’s musical genealogy owes as much to fellow Brixton chancers Goat Girl and as previous stylistic revivals start to pile up on top of each other the band’s sound reflects a mix and match of grunge, indie and all their myriad forms. If this all sounds a bit like it was recorded above a kebab shop on Coldharbour Lane you would be waaay off (Steve Albini recorded and engineered the whole thing from his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago) and perhaps why it lacks the potent political urgency and youthful swagger of Goat Girl that, maybe more authentically, was.
As an introduction to the band last year’s single ‘What You Don’t Know’ owes more to the sleazy spoken word of Shame with a punk snarl and juxtaposed melodic chorus that come together like cold ham and eggs. Elsewhere Albini (it’s a producers record) opts for a raw, often bass led backing to the half-shrieked Kate Bush meets Ari Up vocals; or less complimentarily, like a pork pie Lily Allen. ‘Hark’ is basic and sparse with a long intro, the repetitive bass and simple guitar refrain never really get going but it’s the odd urban Americana of ‘Doom Lord’, most like Lola Colt, or its satellite track (and previous label teaser) ‘Burnt Ends’, a short cursed aside, that perhaps sum up this record’s identity crisis. Whether some of its obvious potential was merely lost in the cross-Atlantic toing-and-froing or something more premeditated, by cashing out their pounds sterling for Albini dollars, Hot Sauce Pony only lost some of their cultural flavouring diluted by the exchange rate.
Highlight ‘Christmas In Prison’ is a skewed love song complete with fiddle and gentle wig-out which was sneaked out last month on the It’s Brixmaaaaas compilation CD to little fanfare but its warped allegory to long distance romance shows a thoughtful depth to the band’s songwriting. So, for all the hip street-swagger and continental appropriations this is simply an album about relationships and virtue. The grungy but forgettable ‘Ho’, with its pleading “don’t let me go” repeater, or ‘My Pet Hate in 6/8’’s drab “I’ve been dying to take you out” refrain are naïve and guileless which then seems cruel at this juncture to compare them to Wolf Alice or great Northern hopes Venus who offer so much more. Underwhelming closer ‘Louder’ eventually collapses into distant feedback and radio distortion and it’s a predictably uninspired ending. Let’s just hope they sell enough copies to recoup the recording costs.
Hot Sauce Pony is released on 18th January through Brixton Hillbilly Records.