Apparently three years in the making, Jay Haze’s latest is a labor of Love & Beyond. Laborious not just to the surplus album package’s creator, but for the listener as well. Stretched across two CDs and two LPs, each packaged and sold separately with completely different material in gotta-catch-em-all fashion, Love & Beyond is an investment of epic proportions for even the most avid Jay Haze fan. From the outset, the album seems to have something for every one, running the gamut of neo-soul, hip-hop, acid house, dub, minimalism, IDM, jazzy downtempo, and, of course, “beyond”. The only thing Haze seems to be in short supply of is discretion.
Rather than supply us with a short stack of prime tier material, Jay Haze has floundered out a fulsome, traipsing compendium of also-ran numbers. There could even be a great single disc on here somewhere, but Haze didn’t seem to care enough about these tracks to find out. For the most part, the interesting melodies and beats on the album are so ramshackley duct-taped together or distracted by an off-color, off-key vocal that they neither wind up gaining any forward momentum nor settling into a locked trance.
Love & Beyond is muddied by the flood of variety, not the grandeur of hyperbolic vision. I don’t feel remiss to say that most of the 30-plus tracks here feel like they could have been saved had they been developed a bit more, even, dare I say, stretched a bit longer. If recorded electronic music is in a constant search for the big idea, the desperate quest to make its producers’ functionalist canvases negotiable outside of the club setting, Haze is among the crowd who thinks mere experimentation and excess alone will sublimate into a qualitatively genius noumenon.
The first disc of the CD set is a bold attempt at total reinvention. It’s the most consistent in vision, but also the most manqué of failures.
Haze’s reputation as a vaunter and hater precedes him, but until this point the life-size ego he totes has rarely interjected with his musical output. The first CD of Love & Beyond (recognizably the “Love” to disc two’s “Beyond”) is a series of extended boasts about Haze’s bedroom prowess. Far be it for me to judge if he’s right about all that. Certainly others have danced on that pedestal before. The problem is that Haze’s brand of electrolytic R&B and deep-fried hip-hop is not even remotely sexy, particularly the meandering vocals, which more often than not just sound amateur or creepy. His flow and rhymes are occasionally adequate and/or amusing, but rarely impressive.
On the raunchy “Cocktail”, Haze implores that hands be swapped on each other’s boy and girl parts using the sonic communicator of animal sound effects. He cops the elephant sound used in Missy Elliot’s “Work It” for his (though I’m unsure whether the sound is supposed to stand in for trunk, slang for ass, or as a stand-in for cock, as the title of the song implies) and a kitty cat meow for hers. Unfortunately, the song’s novelty gets the best of it as low-end buzzes clumsily collide with tribal beats and P-Funk style helium backup vocals. Haze awkwardly stumbles over lines like “We about to proceed / The quality is nasty at a compromising speed” and jostles out that inner creep by stating “You don’t gotta say nothing / I know you like it.”
The rest of the disc is full of these drunken acrobatics. “So Far Away” tries to merge a minimalist version of ‘70s soul swagger with a proggy arrangement that jumps, weaves, wobbles, and ultimately never finds itself. Its slapdash production aesthetic is strangely defiant of conventions, but Haze never emerges with a new sound one would actually want to hear repeatedly. “Prince of Spades” has some cool ideas but fades like a passive sketch purged off the hard drive unfinished. Only the Jamie Lidell-ish “Direct Hit” and the mournful “90 Deep” succeed completely and only do so by conforming to a traditional song structure that favors catchy melodies over ornamentry.
CD two begins with “Some Other Kind of Love”, whose elevator MIDI chillout vibe might seem ironic if the previous disc were not already filled with these kinds of cheesy permutations of ponderous instrumentation. It’s as if he found some kind of eureka lineage between Gamble and Huff’s outpouring and Manuel Gottsching’s E2-E4 in light jazz soloing. Unfortunately for him, it was exactly that which almost killed those respective works.
Luckily, “Some Other Kind of Love” is not indicative of what’s to come on the rest of the Beyond portion of the CD set. Yet, with the first half filled with tepid warm-ups and exercises like “Bring Your Love”, “Reunion”, and the “Taps” quoting “Like a Flame”, the listener remains curious when the album is going to start by its halfway point.
The good stuff comes in as the album rounds the second lap, with an excellent arch whose high quality supersedes the detachment of each tune from one another. The Balearic trot of “Steady Smooth”, the incidental ‘80s television crime drama music of “Friday Funk You”, the apocalyptically pounding “Keep It Real” (an instrumental version of the one found on the 2007’s Slices DVD), the Middle Eastern synth flamenco of “Cheese Flamingo”, and the sampledelic Tribe Called Quest inflected “Awakening” could have made a pretty, albeit arbitrary, EP in and of themselves without the clutter and cacophony of much of the rest of the album’s filler.
The LPs, which are far more attuned to a club atmosphere, fare the best of the four discs. “I Can’t Forget (Featuring D:exter)” is built around a winding proton pack LFO and a repeating chorus of “I wake up in the night alone”. It may be that loneliness suits Haze better than braggadocio, as the titles of the excellently dramatic old school acid jam “Lost in Deep Space” and the sparse “Inner Hurt” indicate. In addition, “Ass to Mouth” and “Riddim and Bass” bring Haze’s inner creep to the fore, rather than masking it as some kind vainglorious Don Juan front. On those dark and deranged tunes, his threatening oddness seems almost apropos to the music’s tone.
It’s fitting that CD one begins with sequenced artificial hand-clapping. Haze spends a lot of time on Love & Beyond being self-applauding, relentless in his scope, or perhaps lack thereof. That introduction, fittingly titled “Intro”, serves as a kind of ego tone float that extends through the next three hours of music. “Nobody could love you in that way”, he boasts. “I’m on fire”, he claims. In the backdrop, a vocalist chants of Haze’s “pure inspiration”. It takes pretty big balls to think he can pull off those conceits. Occasionally, Haze does exhibit the wares. His tragic flaw is that he wants to show us everything else he came up with on the way to those few good tunes. This is not inspiration though. It’s completism for completism’s sake.