You’ve got to be kidding me. It took DJ Mayonnaise eight years to produce this?!
Don’t get me wrong. Still Alive isn’t a bad sophomore effort, but it’s certainly not an epic masterwork that requires eight years in the making. Still Alive is rather alive with experimentation in the combined realms of hip-hop, trip-hop, and even jazz.
Growing up in suburban Maine, a geographic locale known more for its lobster than hip-hop artists, DJ Mayonnaise (a.k.a. Chris Greer) subsisted on a steady diet of new jack swing until forging a lasting friendship in his school age years with Brendon Whitney. Whitney, who would later become rapper/producer Alias and one of the masterminds behind Anticon Records, turned the young Mayonnaise on to hip-hop and sent him down a path to scratch and spin himself a resume on the New England hip-hop scene.
Along with fellow Portland-ites, Sole and Moodswing9, Mayo and Alias headed for more hip-hop conducive shores, building the small Anticon empire in the Bay Area. As the four artists gathered more to their fold, the Anticon label rattled out several albums, including DJ Mayonnaise’s debut album, 55 Stories.
In the eight years since the release of 55 Stories, life got in the way for DJ Mayonnaise and he had apparently dropped off the musical map.
Moving back to Portland in 2003, Mayo rekindled his inspiration and began working on what would become Still Alive. The final product includes these creations put together back in New England circa 2004, as well as some older material DJ Mayonnaise had committed to tape while back in Oakland after the release of his first disc. Mayo then reconnected with his buddies at Anticon, home to an eclectic blend of indie alternative rock and hip-hop, and secured a way to release his latest album.
Obviously, a person grows a lot in eight years. Their tastes change and subsequentially, the art that they create reflects that. The long layover between albums accounts for the strange brew Mayo has concocted on Still Alive with a lot of different musical elements incorporated into the mix as opposed to 55 Stories, which was more straightforward hip-hop and sample scratching.
Urban-tribal drums and clicks start things off on “Post Reformat”, nodding to its systematic title and Mayo’s rejuvenated creative state by processing in industrial pulses and throbs in this oddly and ambiently soothing piece.
Amid a lot of the mellow fare DJ Mayonnaise presents on Still Alive, “Strateegery” crackles through with the disc’s lone vocal by rapper K-the-I??? out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. DJ Mayonnaise heads back to his roots, scratching out head-nodding beats behind K-the-I???, whose lyrical flow seems awkward and out of breath. On one hand, K-the-I???‘s intonation is unique. On the other, his words stumble over themselves so much that it’s hard to tell whether or not he’s attempting to be stylistic or if it’s just bad form. Yet again, the here comes that boat that was missed anywhere from four to eight years ago when railing against fixed elections and media gatekeeping was all the rage. That’s not to say that socio-political commentary does not have its rightful place, however, it’s been done before and with much more finesse. Nevertheless, this is the closest old-school Mayo devotees will get to his earlier style and musically, Mayo is spot-on with bright samples popping in between K-the-I???‘s helter-skelter rhymes and full-sounding beats.
While discovering himself, apparently, DJ Mayonnaise must have discovered some jazz records in his old crate-digging haunts while seeking inspiration. Many of the pieces offered on Still Alive seem rooted in mellow jazz, running rampant with saxophones of varying pitches, as well as completed efforts of varying quality. “May Days” is heavy on the clarinet (sounding more like an oboe on this track), a little too smoothed-out jazz that if you don’t listen hard enough, the entire piece fades into nothing.
Mayo’s attempts get better as “Dawson’s Anthem 2005” combines slow, saxophone jazz runs that solo throughout the beginning of the track before melding with militaristic drum corps-esque snare drums that rattle against Josh Thelin’s alto trills.
“The Windham Song”, features both tenor and alto sax, piping in against earnest, fuzzed-out guitar riffs and light veils of feedback. Vaguely psychedelic, there are elements of Celtic music and blues that creep in on this piece. Closing your eyes, the saxophones sound almost like bagpipes reaching out across a moor at one point, then by a stark contrast, they emulate a murky, bayou-soaked blues harmonica. Now this is something that’s worth waiting for!
The repetitive nature of “Munjoy Moments” is spruced up by the introduction of new sounds that layer over the previous ones at various intervals throughout the track, creating an almost “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, in-the-round effect. The song remains the same, however, new instruments brighten the soundscape and add a little excitement to the piece. Conversely, “The End of the Beginning” sounds like it was the rough-draft for this piece, not nearly as refined, instead falling into a tinny-sounding rut.
“Quiet On the Set” tries too hard with its space-age gurgling eating up nearly a full minute of the track’s opening before bursting forth with a pseudo-industrial crunch. The brief, shining moment is drowned by an overbearing, sterile voice calling for “silence” over and over again before finally crashing back with sparse chords and rolling drum beats.
Not even knowing how long of a time it took to compile the album, DJ Mayonnaise’s Still Alive is awkward and piecey. There is no cohesive theme or style other than the auditory evidence of a DJ trying to find his sea legs again after spending so much time away from his craft. While there are definite moments that shine, there are others that take a leap backwards or just stay floating somewhere in the middle.
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// Notes from the Road
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