Conscientious trendspotters who make a habit of paying attention to these things have long admired the Compost label for its dedication to an unerringly cosmopolitan ethos that has, in practice, translated to a string of exquisitely tasteful electronic music releases that have crossed genre boundaries and made as strong a case for a unified European sound as has been provided in the modern era of increasing globalization. Local trends and ethnic traditions have been absorbed and reflected in the eclectic music of DJs and producers from Portugal to Poland, the kind of musical cross-pollination that used to take place over the course of centuries and countless generations occurring in the span of scant months. No obscure musical genre is any farther away than the nearest broadband Internet connection or a cheap intercontinental flight.
But that’s not David Muallem’s game. He may be signed to Compost but he seems blithely unaffected by the label’s trademark eclecticism. Rather, he’s onto a different variation of the same theme: instead of using globalization to plug into disparate musical cultures, he’s used the facelessness of modern music to transform himself into something explicitly worldly. Although Muallem hails from Munich, he’s not a microhouse producer or a neo-Brazilian DJ. Muallem is producing the kind of starry-eyed, oil-slick future hip-hop that you would expect to hear from someone like Pharrell or Kanye, cross-bred with the funky retro-dance stylings of fin de siecle Felix da Housecat. I’m almost tempted to say that a project like Frankie Splits sticks out like a sore thumb on Compost, but I guess a German DJ pretending to be an American hip-hop guru is no more unusual than anything else these days. It makes about as much sense as anything in this crazy-quilt world, where Austrian DJs can go wild for Brazilian tango records and the biggest craze sweeping the international hipsterrati is British hip-hop. (Or was grime last week? It’s so hard to keep track!)
But I’ve gotta say, this is a pretty good record. Fans of underground hip-hop should keep an eye out for guest appearances by the likes of Lyrics Born (on the shuffling, Z-Trip-esque “2Hot 2Cold 2Tough”), Anticon alumnus and Warp Records mainstay Beans (“New Thunder”, perhaps the most conventional beat Beans has ever spit atop), and underground sensation Wordsworth. The latter appears twice, on the shambling, early-Prince-influenced “Havin’ Fun With It” as well as “Be About It”, technically a bonus track considering the fact that it uses the same beat as Lyrics Born’s “2Hot 2Cold 2Tough”.
But the real name of the game is the kind of sultry, sexed-up future R&B that we hear on tracks like “Some Loving” (featuring Martine Girault over a screwed-down beat) and “My Life (Downtown)” featuring Amazon (who also appears on “Are You Ready? [Turn Off The Lights]”). The best tracks on the album are not the indie hop-hop workouts, which seem regrettably rote, but the muscularly funky soul jams. The immediate standout is “Cheerleader”, featuring the vocals of Shawn Lee, which features the kind of oddly off-kilter but genuinely irrepressible rhythmical hook that gets in your head and digs a hole to stay warm. The mixture of synth style and sparse electric guitar makes for a interesting contrast, and Lee’s lyrics—which seem to be about dating a bouncy cheerleader—are funny without being obsequiously so. Muallem also shines on instrumentals such as “Down 2004”, which allow him freer rein to indulge his dance inclinations.
It’s obvious Muallem has a knack for making beats, as well as the musical chops to make the beats into actual songs. But an album like Frankie Splits ultimately rests on the strength of each individual track, and while there’s something to like in every track, there’s also the same kind of patchiness that one habitually associates with producers’ showcases. If this album gets into the right hands, he could have a bright future as a beatmaker for the indie hip-hop world, but as an artist himself he lacks the focus to really bring all his strengths to bear on a consistent album.