Sampling: Not So Novel Any More
When engineer John Fryer and his 4AD Records collective M/A/R/R/S released “Pump Up the Volume” in 1987, it was a true watershed. The song combined the relatively new technology of electronic sampling with the production techniques of hip-hop—which had only just entered the mainstream.
The “kitchen sink” approach to production meant that “Pump Up the Volume” could mix hip-hoppers Eric B. & Rakim with experimental singer Ofra Haza with ‘70s funk outfit the Bar-Kays, and end up with something that was so packed with hooks, it became an international hit. Thanks to sampling, none of these artists actually had to appear in the studio. These days, copyright laws and licensing fees have made genre-bending, sample-happy records like “Pump Up the Volume” impossible to make. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because the kitchen-sink, cut & paste method of hip hop production hasn’t produced a genuine classic since the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique in 1989; or, if you’re generous, DJ Shadow’s Entroducing in 1996. And even those albums have their share of naysayers.
All of this means the pressure’s on artists like Sweden’s Ture Sjoberg, aka Beatfanatic, to deliver something special. His second full-length, The Gospel According to Beatfanatic fails, but it’s not for want of trying. All of the elements are in place: old school hip-hop and funk, disco, Latin jazz and salsa. The “what the hey?” melding of styles, the rhythmic twists and turns, and a general sense of enthusiasm. The problem is that Sjoberg never sounds in complete control of his material; this Gospel could use a little more theological underpinning.
“Pete’s Funk” does well with the clipped, popping breakbeats that made Shadow famous, and “El Ritmo” is as grimy and worn as a Mexico City backstreet, the syncopated percussion and woozy horns recalling Latin Playboys’ genius application of sampling to Latin blues. “Holdin’ Out” gets the job done with a soulful bass line and some atmospheric harmonizing. But too often the songs sound like they’ve been thrown together from a recipe that’s never been tested. “Like a Sound” takes on disco; “African Love” co-opts Afrobeat, while “Boom Bangin’” and “Blow My Mind” have a go at bass slappin’ R&B—but nothing sticks. Rhythms start up, break down, stutter, and start up again in patterns that become predictable. Once you’ve heard the first couple minutes of a track, you pretty much know how the other three are gonna end up sounding.
The Gospel has plenty of danceable moments and some fun ones, too. It’s a good party album—made for careening out of speakers at high volume while no one’s listening too closely. But ultimately Sjoberg’s trying too hard; ironically, this makes the album sound throwaway. When it comes to sampleathons like this, sometimes less more is more more.