Carnivorous Plant Society – The New King (CPS)

For an album where the last line is “and the pussycat died miserable”, The New King is a pleasant gentle listening experience. The second full-length from Auckland’s Carnivorous Plant Society is a dreamy tropical collection of mostly instrumental pieces, fleshed out with some spoken word story-reading and a handful of guest vocal appearances.

The group have described themselves as “Mexican fantasy music”, and it’s as good a description as any to pre-inform a listener about this album. The music is humid and tropical, a mix of strong drum and bass grooves with synths, marimbas, trumpets, strings, and a variety of other instruments. It’s highly textural music. In fact most of the albums’ appeal really lies in the changing instrumental arrangements and combinations of different interlocking natural instrument timbres, which show an impressive level of purposeful craft from primary composer Finn Scholes.

Carp In A Pond opens the album with fluttering synths before snapping into a slow marching beat led by a cowboy guitar line and then transitioning to golden chamber pop with a beautiful string arrangement. Following this we get an ominous synth soundscape over which the first of the album’s spoken word pieces arrives.

These fables, all short Aesop-esque stories about humanised animals, were written by Finn Scholes and read here by his father Jeff as though to a young child. Unlike Aesop’s fables though, these have a subtly ironic sense of humour, a slight perversion of the moral lessons we expect. In Carp In A Pond, the Carp never find an answer as to why their pond is rancid – “they should never have been put in that pond in the first place” (a message in itself). In Best Friends, the younger dog never understands the older dogs’ life lesson, “and never did”. The last fable on the tracklist, The Goat And The Pussycat, ends with the pussycat realising its lesson “too late” and dying “miserable”. These are nice twists that work well to compliment the feel-good chirpiness of the music.

I would have liked the spoken fables to be more obviously connected to the music rather than tagged on at the end of pieces, or even to have some kind of connecting theme or narrative to them that would make them seem to arrive less randomly throughout the album. But they certainly do break up the instrumentals nicely, improving the flow of the project.

Though the instrumentals are beautifully crafted and sonically pleasing, they do tend to blend into one – this is certainly a background kind of album, for most of it at least. Whether this is at all a negative thing though is entirely up to one’s listening preferences, as it is certainly part of the group’s approach. For me the standout tracks are, rather predictably, the three with sung vocals. The guest vocalists are names enough to make the tracks of interest anyway. Holly Fullbrook, a.k.a. Tiny Ruins, provides a hazy summer melody to the gorgeous slow groove of Car Dance, hooking listeners in on the second track. Lawrence Arabia’s voice fits perfectly onto the lurching marimba-heavy It Has One Voice, linking to the humorously dark fables by ending a long invitation to come in and view his house and possessions with the disclaimer “all the things/that money can buy/it makes no difference/we’re all gonna die”. Then there’s the most immediately catchy track, Don’t Go Outside, sung tenderly by Don McGlashan in alternation with a high-pitched chorus of female voices that supply the child-like hook.

The album’s spacious and clear production is the work of drummer Alistair Deverick, so perhaps it’s no surprise the drums have such a fantastic round sound to them, further bringing out his expressive fill-heavy style that really elevates many of the pieces, particularly Carp In A Pond, Dry Spell and Swamp Bosa. The latter is one of the most “Mexican” sounding instrumentals, and features some great trumpet playing from Scholes, while Dry Spell features one of the album’s best instrumental arrangements, complete with a great string section part.

The New King is essentially exactly what it sounds like based on the most basic description you could give – summery Mexican-influenced instrumentals interspersed with spoken mock-kids’ stories. And it’s executed really well.

Ruben Mita.