ALBUM REVIEW: Skinny Pelembe - Hardly the Same Snake
Johannesburg-born, Doncaster-raised, genre-agnostic artist shines on carefully arranged second LP
After releasing his debut LP, Dreaming is Dead Now, in 2019, Doya Beardmore, who performs as Skinny Pelembe, decided to change labels. Explaining the move from Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings for Partisan Records, Beardmore says: “I feel like I needed to remove that safety net.”
Follow-up album, Hardly the Same Snake, which was begun pre-pandemic and completed in spring 2021, was re-recorded twice before Beardmore found peace with the output.
For a one-man band which assembles songs by sampling instrumentation originally recorded live, Beardmore clearly takes a lot of pride in the creative process and this attention to detail shines through Hardly the Same Snake, which finally sees the light of day this Friday (28 April).
The press in support of the LP fairly describes the nine tracks as ‘genre-agnostic’ and the eclectic range of songs call to mind similar genre-hops espoused by Gorillaz over single albums.
Sitting top of the tree quality-wise is ‘Don’t Be Another’ – a pop anthem which grapples with familial responsibility. Much like the music, Beardmore’s vocals change from song to song and here, he sounds like Frederick Macpherson from indie band, Spector, as epic strings and bold drums stir the senses.
The warm, distinctive guitar leading ‘Well, There’s a First’ is reminiscent of some of the best ponderings by The Shins frontman, James Mercer. Like ‘Don’t Be Another’ the emotion comes through as Beardmore shares this ode to a loved one.
(Photo credit: Sophie Jouvenaar)
Lead single, ‘Like a Heart Won’t Beat’, pulses with energy via its upbeat piano and clap drumbeat which swells into a guitar solo and heavy drumming, ‘Same Eye Colour’ considers the corruption being carried out by those who look respectable over trip-hop electronic percussion and a jungle-inspired rhythm and ‘Charabanc’ showcases Beardmore’s diverse vocal delivery with a softly song chorus accompanied by reggae/ska-tinged verses.
Closer, ‘Secret Hiding Place’, ends proceedings beautifully with Doncaster choir, Rainbow Connections, providing the perfect tribute to Beardmore’s childhood hiding place.
A couple of songs are less effective, with latest single ‘Deadman Deadman Deadman’ pointing out the mortality of us all after listing a variety of other ‘men’ such as clergyman, tradesman, businessman. This, of course, doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know and despite the nice, urgent electro beat, is a bit of a misstep with the generally opaque lyrics on the album verging into the slimmest of meanings here. ‘Oh, Silly George’ by contrast contains some of the strongest lyrics over videogame-influenced Afrobeat but largely fades into obscurity set against some of the more immediate efforts.
Overall, though, the painstaking creative process is worth it as Johannesburg-born, Doncaster-raised Beardmore shows the unique kaleidoscopic wonder of Skinny Pelembe in a little over 30 minutes. Hardly the Same Snake covers heavy themes, both personal and political, but does so entertainingly and engagingly.
Hardly the Same Snake is out on Friday (28 April) via Partisan Records