Maribou State ‘Portraits’ (Counter)

From the leafy ‘burbs, Hertfordshire duo turn in gentle, off-kilter belter

The ‘bou duo of Chris Davids and Liam Ivory grew up in Potten End in Hertfordshire (population 1,340, two pubs, village hall, junior school, church, shop). They’ve lived there all their lives, save for a stint at Leeds Uni, where, having studiously ignored each other right through school, they discovered a shared passion.

Fast forward and sleepy Herts is where their studio, “the shack out the back”, is based. It brings to mind Ultramarine and their remote workshop on the edge of the Essex marshes, skirting the Blackwater estuary, and how their surroundings conjure images in their music. You can almost smell the saltwater in some of their tunes. So what sort of noise comes out of leafy Potten End?

Working together since 2011, with a string of remixes and the very well received ‘Tongue’ and ‘Truths’ EPs for Norman Cook’s Southern Fried label to their name, ‘Portraits’, Maribou State’s debut album, opens gently enough – but the shuffling beat of ‘Home’ isn’t as sleek as it first seems. It sort of cracks and crumbles in places, like it’s broken, but only slightly. Like notes are missing, but not. Like there’s a loose wire, a dodgy connection. This, you think, is going to be interesting.

Despite its village-y genesis, it’s a very urban sounding record with that pretty much de rigueur R&B twang. It also has a mix of upbeat and downtempo, of instrumentals and vocal guests, including Holly Walker, long-time collaborator Pedestrian, and Portico pal Jono McCleery, who seems to be everywhere at the moment. ‘Portraits’ is a record that shares much of the same DNA as Portico. What sets it apart is that slightly broken thing. The little noises. The buzzes. The crackles.

The housey ‘The Clown’, feat Pedestrian, judders away with stabbing strings that sound like they’ve been recorded in a barn with no doors and a broken mic. Probably were for all we know. The collision of the warm infectious grooves and the flaky gripes and grumbles is a joy. Squonky enough, but not overly squonked. ‘Raincoats’ is perhaps the standout. Dubby, with its long-slung bass chime and echo, a submarine type ping somewhere over there, the repetitive vocal refrain is so muddy it’d need a good hose down on the doormat before you’d let it in. By crikey though is it good.

So the music that comes out of Potten End was never going to be leather on willow and Vaughan Williams, was it? If you wanted to sum up Maribou State in a nutshell, their label have it down, describing them perfectly in two words: dishevelled synths. DISHEVELLED SYNTHS! It’s the restrained rumble of a V-8. A confident, classy, respectful low purr as it passes through the village at 30 mph, but once you get out on those B-roads and open it up… Boy, what a growl.

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