Best known for his “potato head” cartoons, his Fairtrade tea brand Make Us A Brew and his obsession with fish, Andrew Carthy’s music has a warmth and humor that’s often missing in the moody world of breaks. Mixing hip-hop with woozy jazz and bug-eyed electronics, the Manchester producer’s tunes might not sit on dance music’s cutting edge but they’re full of oddball charm: Virgin Atlantic uses the deep-sea dub track “Fish” for its in-flight safety video. But the downside of humor can be that people don’t take you seriously, so for his fifth album, Scruff has dropped the comedy samples and gone, if not totally straight, then a bit straighter.
Luckily, the sound-bending values of old have only been slighty muted. There’s rubbery funk on “Where Am I?” and fat fuzzy bass squelching from a hip-hop beat on the title track. Best of all is the slo-mo acid disco of “We Are Coming,” and the full-on tropical jazz-dub of album finale “Feel Free.” Though tracks like “Deliverance” and the single “Render Me” follow a light and meandering path, there are no focus-less ambient confections. Scruff keeps the beat — however gentle — and the effect is subtly invigorating, like a morning stroll rather than a 4 a.m. zonk-out.
Collaborations with vocalists Denis Jones, Vanessa Freeman and house legend Robert Owens don’t exactly play to Scruff’s strengths of playful sonic elasticity, but for all that, Friendly Bacteria is still pretty infectious.