- "There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile." So goes an old English nursery rhyme dating from the 19th century. It's a fitting name for Sheffield's Richard Barratt, who's zig-zagged from late '80s acid house as The Funky Worm to early IDM as half of Sweet Exorcist and the acid jazz of The All Seeing I. Not all of his projects have aged well, but the earliest Crooked Man singles seemed promising.
Barratt cherry-picked from his first three self-released singles and the four singles that DFA released this year for his self-titled album. Opener "Coming Up For Air" trims the 14-minute single version to a succinct seven. The ethereal intro turns to a deftly quickening pace, building with female coos and glints of pedal steel guitar until it reaches a sleek dub climax. "This Machine (Kills Me)" is the kind of Chicago house homage that DFA excels at (à la The Juan Maclean, or the first Hercules And Love Affair album), complete with a throbbing bass thump, a soulful vocal and an anthemic piano line. Too bad it clocks out after four minutes.
But then Crooked Man goes off the rails. The limp, expressionless "The Girl With Better Clothes" sounds like early '00s electroclash. "Try Me" has a sweet croon and spare electro backdrop, but the track never escapes its own inertia. "I'll Be Loving You" might be an homage to the stripped-down sound of classics like Master C & J's "Dub Love," but it comes off like an unfinished demo.
Originally released in 2012, "Preset" remains the most realized Crooked Man track, though its little kalimba lick has since been copped by so many other producers that it feels dated. "Fools And Fanatics" could be another Chicago house ode, yet its elements never quite congeal. A falsetto sings the chorus, but the verses, no matter how soulfully sung, sound inane. The repetition of the line "I just can't figure out" feels like a confession from the artist himself. Closer "Happiness" again draws on the ascendant piano chords that defined so many house tracks, but there's no wrinkle or update on that well-worn trope. Despite the name, Crooked Man's greatest fault is ultimately how straight Barratt plays it.
01. Coming Up For Air
02. This Machine (Kills Me)
03. The Girl With Better Clothes
04. Scum (Always Rises To The Top)
06. Fools And Fanatics
07. Try Me
08. I'll Be Loving You