Pickpocket’s Latest Down Under Funk ‘Refraction’

One of the coolest things in writing about music is finding out that the funk is alive all over the world. This coverage is on Pickpocket’s newly released album ‘Refraction‘ coming to us from Melbourne, Australia. The 8-piece band plays groove-based instrumental music with a focus on tight, funky rhythms and soaring, singable melodies. Refraction is the band’s third album with most of the recording completed in Melbourne in 2019 with  the final mixes arriving in early 2020 and the album’s digital release just this past week.
Pickpocket was started way back in 2012 by Craig Strain and went through a few lineup changes before settling on the current personnel for the last 4 years. Craig is the bandleader and composer for the band with writing contributions also coming from Alex Howroyd and Neil Boland over the years. All releases have been self funded and released, and up until Refraction they were all mixed and produced by Craig. Refraction was predominantly mixed by Jason Kingsland (USA) who the band got on board after being impressed with the latest Forq release which he also mixed.
Pickpocket and I connected via social media, a great resource in this otherwise down year.  I heard a clip from the album and immediately got hooked and I think you will too.  Have a read on my take and the band’s commentary below and listen track-by-track.


How ‘Bout It? is all about the bass, drums and funky strumming by Neil Boland on guitar at the beginning. The delayed entry from the horns hits the spot about 1/3 through — this one is definitely a guitar-oriented ride but the horn chorus is solid.  The horn punch in the middle is straight out of the Tower of Power playbook — a good thing.  The guitar solo has that bluesy feel that Tower might have had on an early album like East Bay Grease. The end seems to be a restart of the beginning before a horn punctuated ending with a drum hit for the cherry on top.

Written by Craig Strain and Alex Howroyd. Inspired by the cheeky teenage ritual of getting your mate to ask a girl you like to dance. In Scotland (where craig is from) that conversation would go something like: ‘my pal really fancies you, so how bout it?’ 😉

Sorry It’s Been A While starts with a keys and guitar duo with a deep bass and drum groove following.  The tenor lead horn melody coming in provides a chill groove.  The keys interlude is very bright.  There’s a tempo change midway and the staccato horn riff hits hard like Brecker Brothers style.  This chop bounces back and forth with the into horn section.  The Neil Boland guitar solo here conjures up the sound that might come from Snarky Puppy and leads right up to a horn fanfare close.

Written by Craig Strain. The title comes from a rehearsal session where Neil really stretched out that guitar solo at the end, when he finally wrapped it up we kinda looked at him as if to say ‘you getting something out your system?’ And he said somewhat sheepishly ‘sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to really stretch out like that.’

Love Again is the only tune on the disk with vocals, from Sam Joole. It starts with some punchy horn lines before Joole’s vocals hit and there’s definitely a connection to Prince.  Its got that funk-pop feel with some super speed horn lines and plucky guitar. Alex Howroyd takes a slick tenor solo.  The bass-guitar-drums ending with background vocals drives it home (Maybe I can give you my number?)

Written by Craig Strain, Sam Joole and Alex Howroyd. Definitely Prince inspired, Craig and Sam wrote the lyrics together, with the final twist coming at the end where it changes from ‘I’m in love again’ to ‘we need to love again.’ 

Refraction, the title track brings a nice opening bass groove leading into a mellow trumpet melody. The rush from full horn sound hits next.  Andrew Boyle takes a jazzy keys solo just past midway leading back to the main trumpet-driven theme.

Written by Craig Strain. Some D’Angelo vibes

Bootstomp is a flat-out funk onslaught.  It alternates between a tight horn line and rhythm section funk. The Alex Howroyd trumpet solo midway rides over the rhythm with a slew of sounds bouncing right and left. There’s a fine alto sax solo from guest Joel Sena in the second half and then a final organ cruise with Andrew Boyle.

Written by Craig Strain and Alex Howroyd. Inspired by the great funk albums from the likes of Quincy Jones, Brothers Johnson,  Herbie Hancock, The Commodores, Zapp etc.

Sleep is Useless shows Pickpocket know the funk with some pounding bass, trippy keys/synth and a memorable horn riff.  For me, the title reflects the sleepy chill keys in the right channel offset by the rousing horns in center.  Additional funk guitar provided by Neil Boland on the left channel. Boyle renders a dream like sequence before the horn section.  The keys reminds me a little of Stevie Wonder midway, with its stair-stepping sound. The ending has the bouncing left-center-mid before the horns play a section bound to keep you awake.  The rolling drums from Matthias Edwards sound great.

Written by Craig Strain. Inspired by the sleep chaos of early parenthood. 

Oceanism is noted by the band for it’s dub opening.  The horns coming afterward feel Lettuce-like for me.  The tune is definitely well arranged and mixed — the clarity and separation is well done.  The bari sax solo from Brett Evans is well received and then leads to a near classical sounding bridge.  Boland and Boyle lay some groundwork for a strong bari sax solo section from Brett Evans again.  Craig Strain on bass leads Evans back to the forefront and Boyle takes over with an Isley Brothers (Who’s That Lady?) sound. The last wave between horns and keys is ultimately joined by the bari-trumpet to close.

Written by Craig Strain. An environmental ode about the importance of our oceans and how they are the heartbeat of the planet and that we need to look after them. 

Pickpocket brings the funk and‘fusion’ music forward in the 21st century. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know this stuff – it was the backdrop for a recent bike ride that I described as ‘not long but very far” signifying the different worlds they took me took.  Looking forward to many listens going forward and hopefully seeing them on tour one day.

Pickpocket are:

  • Matthias Edwards – Drums
  • Craig Strain – Bass
  • Neil Boland – Guitar
  • Andrew Boyle – Keys
  • Mike Izzo – Trumpet/Flugel
  • Brett Evans – Tenor/Bari Sax
  • Alex Howroyd – Trumpet/Sax
  • Phil Binotto – Percussion
  • Sam Joole – Vocals (on Love Again)

Guest musicians

  • Steve Allan – Trumpet
  • Jimmy Bowman – Trombone.

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