Album review: Bethlehem Casuals – The Tragedy Of Street Dog

Bethlehem Casuals

Bethlehem Casuals - Credit: Archant

A roller-coaster of idiosyncratic compositions from these Manchester misfits

Lockdown left you bored of your playlists? Pining for something genuinely exciting that’ll engender a new endorphin release? May I introduce Bethlehem Casuals, a seven-strong Manchester outfit whose debut is chock-full of fun and musical adventure.

They blend elements of punk, jazz, psych, disco, ska, rock, Afrobeat, and gypsy-folk into a heady but crystal-clear cocktail that’ll have you reeling, then coming back for more.

With an eclectic but pop-centric sound somewhere between Steely Dan and The Blockheads, The Tragedy Of Street Dog is a concept album based on the adventures of a dog who discovers that all the music in Manchester is being held hostage in Salford (bear with me).

He then enjoys the night of his life, freeing the incarcerated musical spirits and undergoing a rite of passage through the city’s sounds, from psychedelia, electro, disco and beyond.

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So far, so bonkers. But it is packed to the gills with musical finesse and skill, delirious but laser-focused, a cocktail of sounds and unexpected time changes, but always engaging and its pop heart never too heavily obscured.

River Rat has the air of a dust-up between a traditional Balkan folk dance and The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, The Drink is a brawny, drum-heavy, loping beast decorated in violin, myriad percussion and invigorating clarinet, and mellifluous keys and throaty violin inform the instrumental Interlude VII.

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You’ll also come across tart, bright clarinet and sax that recalls party-mode Madness, a shed-load of charismatic vocals and an irrepressible sense of fun.

The centrepiece has to be the tribal drum, fluttering flute and femme-led group vocals of The Passion (a nigh-on 10-minute epic), which is broken with a raucous violin solo that heralds a turbo-charged, moshpit-baiting second act, which morphs again into a heady, clarinet-led psych groove that leaves head spinning and heart pounding.

Aiding and abetting that is the woozy mind-bender The Oke, which meanders in a psychedelic Alice In Wonderland style with unnerving xylophone, noodly clarinet, violin, triangle, percussion, synth and more all sliding over one another like a chemically-assisted lava lamp.

Easily as adventurous and inventive as Field Music but less smart-arse and arch, this is ambitious, inventive, exciting, exuberant, youthful, intricate – and lots of fun. Dive in if you dare.

4/5 stars

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