British drummer/producer Jon Kennedy takes a different tack on his third album; rather than working strictly with samples or strictly live instruments, Useless Wooden Toys is created primarily from homemade instruments, found sounds, and John Cage-style modifications of existing instruments. African drums thwacked with bits of clay, that sort of thing. Thoroughly processed as they are, it's close to impossible to tell the sounds' organic sources without referring to the amusingly extensive liner notes, but there's an overall sense of D.I.Y. looseness on Useless Wooden Toys. Stripped down and often slightly distorted, the beats are usually front and center; however, the most interesting songs on Useless Wooden Toys are those that stray furthest from the dancefloor. The sparse title track, consisting of not much more than a close-miked acoustic guitar and Kennedy's offhand vocals, is an unexpected surprise, and after that, the remainder of the album (four tracks from "Lodestar" to "They Made Us Too Many") explores a quieter sound with strong jazz and indie guitar influences (think Neutral Milk Hotel or Beck's quieter Sea Change side). This side of the record exists in its own musical universe, and for all the funky homemade charms of earlier tunes like "Cut Up" and "Heavyweight Freight" (which has a great post-punk trumpet part à la A Certain Ratio), it's considerably more intriguing.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason