Maria Doyle reviews Slovo’s new album “Bread and Butterflies”

‘Bread & Butterflies’ is the third studio album by the music collective Slovo, principally the project of Dave Randall. Randall was popularly known as guitarist with the band, Faithless

This new album is a diversion from the last two Slovo offerings, “Nommo” (2002) and “Todo Cambia” (2007). If the album title is anything to go by, it might be more all-encompassing, “Bread and Butterflies”; one is essential to life, the other provides a visual distraction from life, but they are both essential for life. 

For this album there is a new Slovo line-up which came together primarily after a chance encounter in a pub in Brixton.  The meeting led to Barbarella’ (Barbara Pugliese, of Barbarella’s Bang Bang) becoming involved as lead singer and beyond the vocals, US hip-hop innovator Mike Ladd provided supporting rhyme and spoken word, with Dave Randall writing, playing and producing.

Speaking ahead of the album’s launch in July 2020, Randall said, “this feels like such a strange and pivotal time to be alive.  We’ve tried to explore the issues affecting us all, and to capture some of the feelings they invoke. But above all this is an optimistic album, born of the belief that a better world is possible.”

The album is fascinating in the choice of elements it blends, both thematically and musically.  It lands on everything from the personal to political, urban and aria, brick walls and lepidopterology.  It might be classified as more “adventurous” * than experimental, and after all, if, as some have suggested, “jazz is dead”*, we could all be in big trouble trying to tag musical output hereon in, so wide-ranging might be the most accurate description of the content.

The album opens with “Deliver Us’” which is executed using elements of prayer combined with spoken word. The lyrics detail our present reality, “there are riches, there is war”, with a call for every living organism, from the bees up, to rise.  There is a sense of an eventuality of social action as a response to the world’s ills, “we will change or we will vanish”,  which reminds one, at least theoretically, of the words of Noam Chomsky:

“We have two choices: you can say I’m a pessimist, nothing’s going to work, I’m giving up. I’ll help ensure the worst can happen. Or you can grasp onto the opportunities that do exist, the rays of hope that exist and say, “Well maybe we can make it a better world.” It is not a very difficult choice.”

As regards mood, this track is for me “moviesque”, or “filmic”.; music in 3D if you like, conjuring images as it plays.

“Enough” is in a similar societal vein, holding present structures accountable for the injustices they perpetrate.  Give me “hope or revolution” could be translated as “can’t cope, with no hope”.  Is it time for absolutes?  “Peace or endless war”?  Current inequalities aside, Slovo demonstrate what is to be rich in sound, if not in bank accounts, however, in overturning what is wrong, we are asked to check in with our motivations.  Do we know what our true aims are, in warring against anything, or anyone?

The playing on “Angell Town Lockdown”, providing an almost instrumental interlude in the mid-way section of the album, is mainly industrial soundscape, a symphony of car noises mixed with arias (again), strangely home, or strange homecoming?  A factory of sound, going outside conventional norms, perhaps an assembly line for the creation of sound and ideas, completed with the addition of a recording of the clapping for the NHS which took place on Thursday evenings throughout the Lockdown.

If there are sections of the album which might be categorised as the bread, it is at the juncture of “The Only Way” the album becomes successively more ‘butterfly’. “Call Me” is one of the personable tracks on the album.  The bravado of the street fighting man or woman retracts into a ball point pen of insecurity and perceived rejection.  Again, there is that all or nothing, do or die imperative: “Call me anything you like, as long as you call me’”.  Just an acknowledgement might be enough?

I find when listening to albums, there is often one track which connects and allows a deeper appreciation of the work as a whole. “State of Mind”, the debut single, has a dreamy feeling, and from a personal perspective, this is the track which offered me a pathway to the entire album.

In this track, Slovo isn’t the political teacher anymore, it is now down to my human conscience.  It is the ‘most clubby’ track so far, probably naturally then, it has a sense of escalation. The music builds in intensity with the addition of trumpeting crests by Robin Hopcraft to highlight that orientation. The resignation of “the way we’re living is the only way” makes the point as to what extent we close our eyes to what is really happening if it does not affect us personally and the extent to which this is at times, necessary.  This decision filters the melody which takes on the dance of the butterfly.                            

“Snake”, by contrast, is about one of those jarred meetings in life and is delivered in hurried vocals.  Maybe mindful of the Northern soul song, popularised by Al Wilson, “The Snake”, (1968) especially the echo of the victim, who was “minding my own business”. It could be a way of claiming back that classic song’s misuse by Donald Trump. “I never wanted you to come back…I want you to stay away.” 

“My Street” is notable from the point of view other people in other working-class streets are feeling the same discomfort from the fact ‘every day is the weekend’, and that menace has personality.  The noise brings accusation.  It reminds us of the bad stuff in our lives.  It is repressing existence and unity.

‘”Simple Thing” manages to condense socialist theory into one track.  There are, the song says, 2 elements:

  • Production, on the one hand, [which we are all capable of, because working people create a surplus of goods and services every day.]
  • The decisions of working people.

It is a simple thing to carry out the reorganisation of society, but one with powerful ramifications.  Change begins with THINKING differently. Maybe a virus is the context that affords us opportunities to DO THINGS differently.

As an aside, the closing track, “Rocco’s Lullaby” is a beautiful and original piece in guitar picking style. It illustrates the ‘full circle’ of the human endeavour, for example, getting a child to sleep, peeling vegetables, overseeing social change, having to make continual personal decisions on cooperation and relationships…the list goes on.

Initially the mention of bread and butterflies seemed a little incongruous together, but is the butterfly’s power to transform itself, from egg to caterpillar and finally into an entirely different entity which is the totem for personal and societal change and its ability to take us to places we didn’t think possible. 

It flies through and carries this album along a path littered with obstacles and apathy.  To create anything, is to break down stuck thinking, which is why the encouragement, promotion, and celebration of art must be protected at all costs and in all forms and Slovo have encapsulated these thoughts particularly well with their latest thought provoking album.

“Bread and Butterflies” can be purchased at the following link – slovo.bandcamp.com/album/bread-butterflies  or streamed here: open.spotify.com/album/0nUuauvwx0lD5SSRb45oWJ?si=zsr77UB2TfOvJS7ShmvzwA

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