Straight up, Pram is one strange band. Given this strange sound, it's kind of amazing that they've been around for nearly 10 years and released so many albums. None of their releases stray from their sound all that much, but they still all somehow manage to have their own catchy oddness that just can't be denied. The band actually started out as nothing more than a duo of friends, with Rosie Cuckston (who is still the singer for the band) singing over the sounds of a homemade theremin. Since that time, they've added lots of additional instruments, but nearly all of them seem to be the lovable outsiders of the traditional music world (like the zither, glockenspiel, and toy piano). Add to that a collection of damaged sounding keyboards, horns and other random instruments and the group is a veritable smorgasboard for aural wackiness.
Another rather unique thing about the band is that singer Cuckston really doesn't sound like most traditional singers. Instead of having a huge vocal range or a classically beautiful voice, it instead sounds like she's struggling to reach notes half the time (almost to a distracting level at some points). Putting all this together gives the group a sound that reminds one of a the soundtrack for a twisted dream sequence, with little bits of lounge, jazz, cha-cha, and trip hop all thrown in for good measure. Like a more twisted version of Stereolab or a more earth-based kitschy Laika, they've been doing their thing for a long while now and this album finds them in solid form.
The very first song on the album, "The Owl Service," lets you know exactly what you're getting into. After starting out with a strange sample that sounds like it was taken from a broken-down carnie ride somewhere, the track kicks a decent groove into place while Cuckston's vocals waver and weave over a mess of flute, wobbly bass, slight guitar, and a batch of other little noises. On "Mother Of Pearl," the group offsets an off-kilter Oriental-sounding keyboard line with some excellent horns to create the chorus of the track while the verse (backing up the odd, odd lyrics) is more stripped down with pretty plucked guitar.
The group really picks up things after the eerie, halfway point of the instrumental "A History Of Ice." As the title might suggest, it's nothing more than some cold washes of sound that floe into one another, but it doesn't derail things at all and is actually a nice compliment to the cute and light follow-up of "The Mermaid's Hotel" (in which they namedrop the previous song title). On "Cat's Cradle," the group mashes a bunch of clicks and gurgling sound-effects with a super-rich low-end while they experiment with a dub groove on the excellent "A Million Bubbles Burst" and the two combine for the best one-two songs on the disc.
After the minute-long instrumental "Picture Box," they close the album out with the spooky, yet sly track "Play Of The Waves" that puts to shame anything the spy-soundtrack yoinking Mono has done. With string flourishes, a subtle use of horns (clarinet and trumpet), and a smooth combo of other instruments, it's a lush, long track and a nice way to close the album out. Basically, if you enjoy trip-hop, but want something a little bit more odd than the norm, this might be your thing. It's odd, and a little less beat-driven, but it makes up for it with sheer unique-ness.