[8 July 2010]
A funny thing happened to Eccentric Breaks and Beats, the bootleg 12” vinyl release circulated by underground remix outfit Shoes, on its way to litigation. As the bootlegged, the Chicago reissue label the Numero Group, were getting ready to sue the record out of existence, they actually started listening to the thing and ended up sorta falling in love with it. Feeling that the mix’s impressive mashup of a countless array of Numero-released samples was too good to let go to waste (and that it would provide a nice, if unconventional, advertisement for the now seven-year-old label besides), they released it as an “official bootleg”, a release that falls somewhere along the lines of Bob Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series in providing a chance for a wider audience to legitimately get a hold of some contraband material while putting money into the proper pockets.
If Eccentric Breaks and Beats feels like a happy accident, though, it probably need not have even been an accident in the first place. Shoes, the secretive label and production team, have previously done well-regarded, if not exactly legit, remixes of the likes of Al Green and Miles Davis, while Numero is perhaps most notable for the heroic Eccentric Soul series, rescuing long-lost funk and R&B treasures from dust-bin oblivion. That is the very basis for this sample collage. It shouldn’t have nearly taken a cease-and-desist order for these two institutions to realize that they’re a marriage made in pop-archivist heaven, each paying tribute to their beloved music in their own expert manners. Additionally highlighting what particularly good sports they are, Numero has even maintained the original bootleg’s mocking label and catalogue number of “Numbero #001” on the packaging of this release, which also comes adorned with bargain-basement cover animation and a title that serves as fond homage to the influential Ultimate Breaks and Beats underground DJ compilations of the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Although the otherwise bare-bones packaging does list the titles of individual songs, the mix itself is structured in true vinyl fashion, with the only track break occurring between what are ostensibly Sides A and B. It turns out to be a wise move, further underscoring the solid uniformity of this set, where individual moments are less important than an overall sustained mood. Particularly given the obscurity of the source material, Eccentric Breaks and Beats will sound, to all but the most obsessive of listeners, like a heady blur of grooves, bass throbs and only the most subtle and occasional modern electronic flourishes. The overall lack of recognizable bits works very much in the mix’s favor, though, keeping the listener locked squarely within the set’s seamless flow rather than turning it into a Girl Talk-esque hipster parlor game.
Even with the mix’s nearly painstaking sense of consistency, subtle variations do crop up just enough to provide each side with its own distinct identity. Side A opens with a wash of sunny orchestral score before quickly launching into a deep soul groove, wah wah guitars and funky horn blasts cutting through the briefly cinematic scene. As it progresses, street party chants (reminding more than a little bit of the equally sample-heavy modern electronic act the Go! Team) collide with threatening blaxploitation guitar workouts. It is only a short matter of time before the atmosphere is completely claimed by ominous sounds: spacey guitar effects, vocals that suggest a warped recording of a gospel choir, dialogue snippets that boast “I remember when Hell was some kind of swingin’ place”. Contrast this side’s journey with that of the B-side, which kicks off with the eerie sound of some doo-wop vocal harmonies wafting in and out of focus. Side A is a gradual immersion, while Side B is an instant plunge.
Where Side A begins serenely before gradually making its way towards its bad-trip vibe, Side B plunges the listener instantly into the darkness, its central motif a recurring dialogue sample promising “we are going to take a trip” even though, this far into the proceedings, the trip has not only long since begun, but is quite a distance away from having already gone sour. Not all of Side B is so unnerving. One uncharacteristically coherent song fragment, a smooth vocal sample (“there are three sides to a triangle / two people in love”) briefly cuts through the murk to lighten the mood, while a late appearance by some breathy female vocals adds an unexpectedly sensual touch. Just as often, though, this side’s atmosphere is cut with the sound of a grinding, buzzsaw guitar or a sputtering rhythm, always maintaining a feeling of unease never quite identifiable enough to pin down but palpable nonetheless.
In the end, what contributes most to the effectiveness of Eccentric Breaks and Beats as a mix is not the terrific wealth of material that Shoes have to work with, but rather the effort that they put into giving each of the two sides of meticulously crafted patchworks its own distinct character. Broadly speaking, Side A, with all of its variances in moods and sounds, is the most purely fun of the two, while Side B’s persistent dark hues make it arguably the more interesting listen. Here’s hoping that as Numero continues to dig through the forgotten past, ingenious remixers like Shoes continue to find such deep reservoirs of fresh sounds to play with.