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Blockhead

Music by Cavelight

(Ninja Tune; US: 23 Mar 2004; UK: 29 Mar 2004)

More often than not in Charles Schultz’s extensive catalog of work, it is poor Charlie Brown who is branded a blockhead ad nauseum for his foul-ups on the baseball diamond, as well as his repeated vocal blunders about life in general. But this unfortunate moniker is tossed to Linus when a most disappointing Halloween is attributed to his misguided declarations about the mythical Great Pumpkin. When Linus convinces Charlie Brown’s sister to stick around and wait all night for his imaginary hero, she grows incredulously angry for several reasons.


Because of what she’s been told, Sally is under the impression that something great will happen here. She’s ticked about missing out on candy and Halloween, and most importantly, she is completely deprived of sleep until she is wise enough to abandon her blanket-loving cohort and head home. Well-known hip-hop DJ and producer Blockhead’s strong Ninja Tune debut may have disappointed Sally, too, but only because she’s damn impatient.


Blockhead hails from New York City, where the obstacles for a DJ trying to get his name on something other than countless self-produced mixtapes are fairly immense. His partnership with Def Juxer Aesop Rock manifested itself swimmingly on Aesop’s first full-length, but gained the producer noticeable underground street cred on the highly praised Labor Days follow-up. His work on Labor Days outshines what a lot of producers will hope to obtain decades from now. Blockhead is forward-thinking on Aesop’s 2001 masterwork; applying a creepy and subtle sensibility to the emcee’s signature growl. His compositions are the most-discussed gems on the album and make up the bulk of the release. He has since been actively producing other hip-hop albums in and out of the Def Jux dynasty, but Music by Cavelight hearkens back quite a bit to the bleak wasteland of gloomy beats that backed Labor Days and the Daylight follow-up EP.


Linus’s friend missed the boat in the pumpkin patch, as whiny kids will do. Like the Peanuts’ Halloween mishap, the magic here is in the wait itself. Blockhead cleverly takes the opportunity to sample the Peanuts gang shouting his name on Cavelight’s opener. Even the impatient Sally Brown shows up here, while Omega One, who scratches all throughout Labor Days, cuts the producer’s misleading professional name to bits on the “Hello Poptartz” introductory track. The beat here is a sleepy head-bobber, laced with somber organ and an acoustic guitar loop. It’s not as dark as the Aesop instrumentals CD, a brief collection of Blockhead’s solid early work that fortunately comes with Music by Cavelight, but the album’s intro instead announces his presence both with the novel sample and a sultry groove.


The aforementioned Labor Days‘s gloominess takes hold after the album’s first couple of minutes with a series of ominous and rather chunky soundscapes. Blockhead allows snippets of a creepy string section loop to filter into “Carnivores Unite” and exit with live guitar accompaniment and bits of shrill trumpet. These bits and pieces that he has so quizzically weaved together are not merely reminiscent of his previous work, but also indicate his development and experimentation with the genre.


A couple of Blockhead’s experiments on Music by Cavelight are indicators of the producer’s tendency to never allow the piece to move in one consistent direction. In this, he masks a track so that the end of it obviously resembles the opening seconds, but could conceivably be taken for a different selection altogether. In “Sunday Séance”, a solemn piano melody is elevated with synth-sounding horns and a ghostly incomprehensible vocal loop. The marching beat remains the same throughout, but by the end, the piece has changed so much that it’s almost an entirely new work.


When the record falls a bit short in the middle area, Blockhead’s tendency to reassemble things comes into play again. He closes remarkably with the album’s most extraordinary offering. “Insomniac Olympics” begins with jubilant horns and an underlying hopeful drive to success, as one would expect any Olympic ceremony to begin. New accompaniment ideas are introduced at an even-tempered rate and the middle section includes an unlikely marriage of vocal and wah pedal. This greatness is the sort of thing that Sally Brown would miss out on because of her ridiculous lack of patience and focus.

Dominic Umile is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. His work has recently appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Chicago Reader, The Comics Journal, and more. Follow: @dominicumile | Email: dominic.umile@gmail.com | about.me/dominicumile


Tagged as: blockhead
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