Skinny Pelembe is in a state of evolution. As the title of his second album ‘Hardly The Same Snake’ suggests, he’s shedding his skin, and becoming something different. A change of label – formerly Brownswood, now Partisan – perhaps assists in this evolution, a switch of circumstance unleashing a switch in sounds.
Perhaps more direct than his debut – 2019’s multi-faceted ‘Dreaming Is Dead Now’ – this new album finds Skinny Pelembe dialling back the overtly political, instead allowing this to become infused with the personal. So, mid-album ear worm ‘Oh Silly George’ may well touch on the country’s current dystopian, it’s lurch to the Hard Right, and the (justifiable) fears that many British people of colour have right now. But it’s also a pop song about alienation, a wonky synth burner reminiscent of William Onyeabor or maybe Metronomy at their most outre.
‘Charabanca’ is framed by that wistful guitar line, while ‘Like A Heart Won’t Beat’ runs on the spot, its dashing pace held firm to that rigid melodic framework. There’s an assurance here that was perhaps lacking on Skinny’s debut – the dulcet, evening haze of ‘Well, There’s A First’ could scarcely be imagined on his helter-skelter opening gambit.
That being said, it’s all over too soon. A breathless 32 minutes, finale ‘Secret Hiding Place’ is little more than choral ambience shot through with a Morse code signal, and while it provides a curiously satisfying sense of closure, there’s also a lingering feeling that something more needs to be unpacked.
Re-listening to the record, ‘Hardly The Same Snake’ feels more like the marker on a journey, than its end point. Packed with verve and fresh ideas, Skinny Pelembe seems to break from his own past, wrestling with fresh challenges in the process.
Words: Robin Murray