Noonday Underground

Self-Assembly (Bar/None Records)

The résumé: After leaving pop-psych outfit Adventures in Stereo, Simon Dine spent a couple of years in Europe scavenging records and fine-tuning his sampling gear, and upon returning to the U.K. he hooked up with classically trained Daisy Martey, the daughter of Ghana's top saxophonist. Taking the name Noonday Underground from a Tom Wolfe essay about '60s mods, in '97 the duo launched the first in a string of critically saluted singles (no less than Paul Weller became an early patron of the band), culminating in the 2000 full-length Self-Assembly. Newly licensed by Bar/None for stateside release, it is, to snatch a term from the Guide to British Critics' Rock-Speak,a corker.

Bursting with a swingin' '60s Carnaby Street vibe that's less Austin Powers kitsch than one might think, Self-Assembly unashamedly lays out all the parts and ingredients: Yardbirds-styled fuzztone 'n' twang guitars, Spencer Davis Group organ motifs, peppy horn and string charts, effects galore (sitar licks, theremin, backwards passages, etc.), faux-mono, echo-chamber production that Joe Meek would love and, in general, a psychedelic space-age bachelorette pad ambiance. On most tracks, Martey and her goblet-shattering pipes show up front and center; if Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell is Dusty Springfield on acid, then Martey is Julie Driscoll (jazz-rock chanteuse of Brian Auger fame) on Ecstasy. Maybe even the love child of Nancy Sinatra and Grace Slick, given the way she saucily, offhandedly tosses out lines like "Aw, London's swinging 'n' London's burning/And the phone's stopped ringing and the world keeps turning" (from the "Steppin' Stone"-meets-Bacharach-sounding "London") with the kind of go-go-booted/miniskirted brass that'd make Twiggy blush. She's soulful in a rock-blues sense and percolating in a scat-jazz sense, too, able to roar like a fearless kitten and purr like a nursing lioness, with all the implied sensuality and menace in between.

Track-wise, the Noondays cover a lot of ground despite maintaining a consistently groovy veneer. "Hello" is a throbbing, horns/organ slice of vintage R&B complete with rent-party backing vocals. Both "Rock Steady" and "The Hooded Claw" are straight outta Italian B-movie territory, private dick/blaxploitationesque psych similar to some of David Holmes' recent homages to le groove du frommage. "When You Leave" finds Martey channeling Aretha Franklin as Dine simultaneously resurrects the spirits of Enoch Light and the Small Faces. And "We Saw the Midnight" is a bizarre, sampladelic montage (easy listening piano, Hawaiian guitar, harp, child choir) that showcases Dine's DJ Shadow-like dexterity with his gear.

Raving up but chilling out, Noonday Underground is perfect for that all-important lunchtime break, happy hour, or late-night gathering -- Day-Glo retropop for sophisticated provocateurs and obscure sounds mavens alike.

 
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