You’ll find no groove deeper, no funk more fluid, in the Factory Records catalog than that of A Certain Ratio. Outside of a lone ESG 7-inch and a handful of New Order remixes, A Certain Ratio claimed sole ownership of the Manchester label’s funkiest assets, quickly pivoting away from earlier, more gothic post-punk sounds toward a sound that lived on the dancefloor. From the release of their debut The Graveyard and the Ballroom in 1979, the band evolved quickly and always seemed to be grabbing for something just beyond their reach—just the sort of band that would go on tour to support an album and choose not to play any songs from it.
While it’s true that some of the music that A Certain Ratio released in the ’80s feels tied to a certain kind of transitional period between analog and digital, certain textures and aesthetics not quite translating to where we are today. But the bulk of what they’ve released over the years still sounds contemporary, even after four decades—it’s something of a strange irony that, as A Certain Ratio were winding down and playing only part-time in the mid-to-late ’00s, artists like LCD Soundsystem (whose James Murphy would often slip “Do the Du” into DJ sets) were resurrecting the template they created in the ’80s. Which makes the arrival of ACR Loco, the first new release from the band in 12 years, feel slightly overdue. And yet, the grooves it harbors in its strongest moments feel essentially timeless.
ACR Loco is a grittier, punchier, more urgent A Certain Ratio than we’ve heard in some time. Though the band hasn’t quite gone so far back to basics that their latest batch of songs replicates the sound of “Shack Up” or “Flight,” there’s both an edge and a playfulness to it that feels like the group is making up for lost time. In essence, it’s a dance album—something that they’ve done before, and something that can always be done in a new way, with a new approach. Leadoff track “Friends Around Us” is among the most exciting moments here, an evolving, slithering opener that comes to life through samba rhythms, droning basslines and scratchy guitar before fully committing to a high energy jazz-punk noir. By comparison, the cartoonish “boing!” sounds on “Bouncy Bouncy” are a bit sillier, but infectious in how over the top they are, while “Yo Yo Gi” juxtaposes clanging cowbell percussion with Roland 808 acid, and “Get a Grip” puts the spotlight on guest vocalist Maria Uzor from Sink Ya Teeth.
The time that’s passed does leave ACR Loco with a few bittersweet notes—specifically the presence on several tracks from longtime collaborator Denise Johnson, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Yet while there are moments tinged with sadness, if unintentionally, ACR Loco feels more than anything like a celebration—the long awaited re-arrival of one of the best bands to ever bring post-punk to the dancefloor.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.