THE GRUFFS - COSMIC KAFOODLE
The Gruffs ‘Cosmic Kafoodle’
Released 26th August 2022
Reviewed by Kate 7th October 2022
The Gruffs are:
Nick Plant - Double Bass and Lead vocals
Frank Creamer - Drums and Backing Vocals
Tim Jackson - Guitar and backing vocals.
It’s rare that a band’s album cover perfectly summaries what’s inside the record, but the cover for Cosmic Kafoodle does just that: a meditating Seasick Steve lookalike meditates on a UFO above a psychedelic mangrove at sunrise. Think dreamy, swampy, upbeat, timeless and completely unique and you’re halfway to describing the sound of the Gruffs. This record ‘mixes old-school psychobilly and neo-rockabilly [in] an altered world of country, boogie-woogie, swing and ska with lyrics that merge the mystic and comic’, and the humor in their lyrics is straight out of a classic and much-loved BBC Radio Comedy. In rockabilly terms, this is a pretty young band: ‘The current line-up came together late in 2020, having all three worked together in Dark Circus (2014-2017) and Tim and Nick in The Magnificatz (2013-2014) though that’s not the place to start the story of The Gruffs.
In 2019, Nick got together with former Luna Vegas bandmate and guitarist Matt Nailor and Frank (Colbert Hamilton and the Hellrazors, The Bionic Krugerands, Norm and The Nightmares and various alternative dance and rock projects) to form the first line-up of The Gruffs. They quickly established a reputation for imaginative recordings and entertaining live shows, as captured on their debut album “Not the Full Shilling” released in 2017. This was followed by two EPs, Esmerelda (2018) and In Limbo Land (2020), now featuring Jim Hammond on drums.
Now we’re back up to date, almost. Cosmic Kafoodle was written over two years, starting in the early months of 2020 and recorded over three sessions at Western Star Recording studios in 2022.’
Let’s take a tour through the unexpected world of Cosmic Kafoodle:
‘Dutch and the Aardark’- it’s very difficult not to fall in love with this song within the first forty five seconds. There’s this cute xylophone-like introduction, a fun lyrical narrative, and you instantly get on board with what the band are trying to achieve in this record. I instantly felt the echoes of underrated noughties indie heroes The Coral or British Sea Power in this number, but the sixties-styled vocals and moody bass pull this song firmly out of purely indie territory.
‘Smiling Assassin’ - Probably my favorite song on the record because the band have really hit their stride on this one. ‘I can see that evil smile, I can’t see it’s cause…’ wails Nick over some lush harmonies and Tim’s tip-toeing, menacing guitar work. We’re being taken by the hand into an unreal dimension powered by strong double bass and that is totally fine by me.
‘Shiver Shrinky’ - Let’s add some psychedelic effects onto the guitar and think about the humor on the record. It’s this wry, quintessentially British wordplay where the ludicrous becomes entirely plausible when it’s wrapped in the right pun, and ‘Shiver Shrinky’ is a darkly comic vision of the evil doctor trope. It’s a deceptively simple song where the little vocal creepy effects, pauses and drum flourishes lead into this assertively desperate bridge and it really works.
‘Ying Yang’ - The most obviously ‘comic’ song on the record which tells the tale of mad scientists experimenting on all manner of evil plans. The Bowie-style intro mutates into this quick and expertly handled jangly guitar sketch all tied up with a tight rhythm. One of the strengths of the Gruffs is that they know when to give a song their all and when to give a light touch, and those tactical pauses to drop in a single sound really come into their own on this record.
‘Rumble in the Jungle’ - The backing vocals on this one are so much fun and add this modern touch to such an atomic age song. It’s pointless to compare this to other jungle themed rockabilly tracks by other bands because, once again, the Gruffs are doing something completely different. Come for the vocal flourishes and stay for the very satisfying guitar riffs.
‘Oh Lord’ - We’re up to our chests in the lonely swamp in this deliciously understated number, and Tim’s almost country guitar tones lead us through this longer tale of a desperate adventurer. If Nick was American this could be a really effective blues song, but his British tones give the whole song a bite to it.
‘Cosmic Kafoodle’ - there’s no distinct end to ‘Oh Lord’, and instead we drift out of the swamp into outer space in this longer, deliciously dreamy instrumental. Imagine a scene in a movie where a rockabilly achieves enlightenment in a pine forest and you’re there.
‘Puppeteers and Leeches’ - …then, after that lovely drifting number, we’ve got a quicker, tighter number centered in the real world with a singalong chorus and the upright bass becoming more prominent. Let’s ignore the conspiracy theories and have a bit of a dance.
‘Hallucion Hotel’ - Now there’s a country song! But, of course, the titular hotel is floating above this world on a cloud, and ‘country’ isn’t even the best description for this song and the Gruffs seem to defy genre at every turn. This was a close contender for my favorite song on the record because there’s this warmth that emanates from every chord on this one.
‘Blood Moon Suzie’ - If you haven’t learned to expect the unexpected on this album, now’s the time because we’ve got a powerful driving ballad about a werewolf. It starts, it stops, it channels Hotel California, it showcases a mournful chorus about the sorrow of the werewolf curse...honestly, this song seems like a good summary of what The Gruffs are all about. Once you’ve bought into their narratives and world-building there is something magnificent about this band.
‘Rattlesnakin’ Shoes’ - More country and blues vibes, alternated with otherworldly Gruffs-trademarked breakdowns, in this tale of a party which drops in the frankly tremendous line ‘smells like a Minky sponge’ to describe a dance partner.
‘Captain Pineapple’ - A warm, loving pure rockabilly intro leads into a gentle holiday song…that turns into a travelog about meeting sea monsters on a tropical island. There’s something so charming about this number that will pull you into the world of the Gruffs.
‘Jesephine’ - To finish up, we almost have another country song, but the lyrics detailing the eponymous heroine who dumps her boyfriend to run away with ‘those aliens’ leaves us with a satisfying sweet end to this record. When Nick has a singalong chorus to play with there’s these rousing moments that make the Gruffs a really exciting band.
The Gruffs are in that rare position of having created an album which is unique in the scene, a window into the world of the Gruffs which is a little bit like our world but not quite. Once you’ve embraced that, this is a record you’ll live inside for a long while, noticing tiny details you missed on your previous listen. This album will be showcased on 28th October at the Killer Klub from Outer Space, hosted by the Night Owl, Birmingham, and I can’t wait to see how it sounds live.