As John Cleese once said, “And now for something completely different”.
Formidable Vegetable Sound System are an Australian band fronted by ukulele playing vocalist and permaculture advocate Charlie Mgee. He is joined by a variety of musicians providing fiddle, speak-easy motivated brass and more unexpectedly a contingent of modern samples, effects and driving synthesized bass lines to produce a real modern dubstep stamp to his 1920’s based sound.
If you stream through all the releases from Formidable Vegetable Sound System, the first release, “Permaculture: A Rhymers Manual“, has a sound with a much more traditional swing to it, the ukulele firmly at the front of the stage with many a reggae influenced rhythm. The same album was also released in an acoustic format of just Charlie, his uke and powerful lunging voice. These are excellent albums both, imaginative songs gathered around a quirky original theme with a crystal sound that hits the bullseye of the auditory sweet spot.
Then things got pretty interesting. Many of the tracks were released in a third incarnation somewhere down the distant far end of the musical spectrum from the solo ukulele album. Step up the digital faction of the ensemble to create the incomparable “Radish Beets” (what a sensational pun of a title) to transform the sound into dub electronica of the highest order. Thick beats, heavy bass yet still with the ukulele front and centre, this incarnation of these plucky vegetablist tunes redefined originality. Electroswing had truly arrived.
I feel that journey in sound needed to be explained to give some context to the new single from Formidable Vegetable Sound System, for January 2016 saw the release of a new single, “You Are What You Eat“. This new track sits side by side with the sounds of the latterly published “Radish Beets”, again with the ukulele in the driving seat, backed by chunky synth sounds (I am a little squeamish as a man in my forties to use the word phat) with that familiar brass and violin magic upheld by sensitively played drums . The song begins with a swinging ukulele riff and brushed snare shuffle before the meaty electronica and catchy vocal lines combine to harvest a sure footed tune you cannot help but play over and over. There’s a fabulous little ukulele outro but part of me, the ukulele player of course, wishes the uke was just a little higher in the mix for the rest of the track. But I fully acknowledge that is a minor and very biased point.
Lyrically Mr Mgee is still utterly devoted to his soil based passion and the accompanying animated wiggling microbes, happy proboscis cow and Mr Men style characters of the video tickle the funny bone whilst making his serious point about the food chain.
I lament the current commercial pop scene. The cycle of good pop bad pop has always existed and whilst we’re in such a dreadful mainstream lull it truly excites me to hear a punchy, up tempo song like this with more talent and intrigue than most of the profit-making top 40 put together. We can only hope that the world turns off the music reality shows soon and realises there are some amazing singles like this out there that are far more worthy of their foot tapping attention. “You Are What You Eat” is an utter hit with a fascinating and original sound.