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Collecting the Kid

(Definitive Jux; US: 19 Oct 2004; UK: Available as import)

The title and the release’s limited edition status give you a hint: El-P’s new disc serves hardcore fans, but it doesn’t serve anyone just waiting for the Fantastic Damage follow-up. For this disc, highly-regarded producer El-P gathers some of his rarities, outtakes, and soundtrack work into one place. While the material’s a bit scattershot, it’s almost possible to call these odds and ends an album, as El-P has done his work in putting the compilation together, even if he hasn’t always given his best to the tracks in question.

Three of the tracks come from the soundtrack to the film Bomb the System. “Dream Theme” opens the collection with its ambient but unaffecting tones. Mostly fuzzy tones built with a nod toward minimalism (but without an application of that knowledge). The song goes nowhere and serves only as a prologue to the rest of the disc. “Telemundo Bombing Theme” contains some film dialogue as well as some rapping over simple but strong production. It’s a sign without a reference point right now, though, as it refers to much to a movie no one’s seen (at least not yet, the movie’s “coming to a theatre near you soon”). The final film piece works better. “Slow Sex (Love Theme)” sets the mood it strives for, a sultry futuristic bedroom. The ambience on this track stands opposite the lethargy of “Dream Theme”, and once the drum and electric piano come in, El-P builds his piece, using shifts in tone and rhythm to move the song toward, well, a climax.

Take note of that piano that shows up briefly—it stars on one of the disc’s top two tracks, “Intrigue in the House of India”. This piece originally appeared on El-P’s High Water (Mark) album for Thirsty Ear Records, and it’s more jazz than anything. The funky, 12-tone piano work sounds unlike anything else on this disc, but it doesn’t stand out just for that reason. The arrangement, especially the interweaving of the flute and piano parts, is compelling as the flute struggles to lead the melody as the piano lines surround the hook. The late-arriving electronics work perfectly to change up the piece just when it needs it, exploring new directions without losing the tone. Not a stunning piece, but one that’s much more reflective of the inventiveness we’ve come to expect from El-P.

“Feel Like a Ghost” provides the disc’s other highlight. El-P intended this track to be used for the next Cannibal Ox album, but the artists left it behind after they split up. The piece opens tensely before giving way to some low-end effects and space-y hooks. Eventually the bass lays claim to the lead, driving the song along with a sound that isn’t quite funk and isn’t quite dance, but that circles both styles. The jazz influence shows through here, too, with the background sax, and the self-descriptive R&B vocals at work.

Two other numbers are worth considering, more for their context than for their quality. “Jukie Skate Rock” and “Oxycontin” both feature Central Services, which is really the duo of Camutao and El-P. The liner notes inform us that the song was recorded during a night of altered consciousness, in which an hour of Camutao’s singing was cut down to five usable minutes. El-P describes it as something that “may be the weirdest, most fucked up song ever”, but it isn’t. It also isn’t good; it feels like the philosophy that people concoct when they’re stoned only to discover the next morning that it’s not profound. Only here, El-P didn’t realize that lack of depth. “Jukie Skate Rock” is at least fun, even if Camutao sounds a bit ridiculous in his attempts to sound anthemic.

But you get what you see. Collecting the Kid pulls together 11 unreleased or overlooked El-P tracks, and the producer has assembled them in an intelligent album-like manner. The disc has it’s moments, but they’re too scattered for the casual listener. It largely sounds like the studio tomfoolery that much of it is, but there’s enough spark in even that to keep anticipation up for El-P’s next real work.


Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.

Tagged as: el-p
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