The record books show that this week Plain Or Pan turns 14. That’s about 800 articles and a whole lot of words on a whole lot of music that a whole lot of people have never read. If you’re a regular, please accept 14 years worth of thanks for adding to the wee electronic turnstile on the side there every time you visit. If you’re relatively new, welcome! Hopefully you’ll stick around.
Wonder Y by A Certain Ratio has been spinning regularly over the past few days. If you’re a neighbour you’ve probably heard its faint thump permeate your personal space. As you disentangle the Christmas lights from your garage guttering and wrestle the real tree out to the bins, that supersmooth fluid groove that you can hear pulsing through my living room wall is the very tune. You might even have caught me sillhouetted behind the blind on New Year’s Eve as my hips succumbed to its bubbling funk and forced me into some sort of spasmodic movement you’d have the nerve to call a dance. Great tune, innit?
A Certain Ratio – Wonder Y
In the grand, expansive and eminently investigatable ACR discography, Wonder Y and its parent album, Up In Downsville, signifed the band’s era-defining move from clattering, industrial, grey-painted post-punk funk (Joy Division with better clothes, to slightly misquote Tony Wilson) to the smoother-edged, electronically driven and chemically enhanced variant.
If it were a picture, early ACR would look like the jagged peaks of the Alps. By 1992, their sound was as smooth and rolling as the landscapes of Ibiza. Sequencers and samplers take prominence over scratchy guitars. Relaxed, whispered vocals replace urgent shouty ones. The bass is more rounded, less an assault weapon and more a rhythmic dictator. The jerky elbows and awkward jut of the 80s ACR have relaxed and grown into themselves. It’s a good look.
Wonder Y takes its lead from a spoken word sample and a Kraftwerk-inspired rippling rhythm, electronic stones making concentric circles when flung into rivers of fluid mercury, and floats off downstream from there. It’s a cracker.
ACR is joined on Wonder Y by the much-loved and instantly recognisable Denise Johnson. One of the defining voices of the Manchester music scene, Denise finds her spot in the track and surfs across the top, breathy and low one moment, skyscraping and divaesque the next.
By the time Wonder Y is halfway through, man and machine are as one, melded and welded together in holy head-nodding abandon. With Denise gradually taking control of vocal duties, the track is propelled further out into the stratosphere, its analogue bubbles and synth washes, keyboard stabs and nagging, three note bass giving it the auditory appearance of a long-lost melted remix of Primal Scream’s Don’t Fight It, Feel It. Joy and precision in better clothes, perhaps.