Afew years ago a record like this would have been called trip-hop. These days something like Abstract Hip-Hop Lounge ( if there is such a thing) might fit the bill. Not that it really matters, because this is an intriguing album, out of California, and should appeal to those with an interest in the less travelled roads of contemporary music. The recipe is this—get together some tasteful, downtempo beats, throw in some snippets of psychedelia and prog rock, add a touch of jazz (a nod to Ubiquity?), then season with some cinematic atmospherics. Sprinkled among this odd, but quite seductive, melange are some rather good MCs doing their thing. The result is a relaxed, chill-out album aimed at an after-hours, horizontal listening experience. This is West Coast in its mellow rather than drive-by sense.
Things move along steadily until the first rap, Medusa’s bigging-up of the underground (as opposed to the mainstream) entitled “Fiend or the Fix”. Fine sentiments and chunky beats, but a bit of a shock after ambient doodling of the first few minutes. After that the vocal cuts seem to interact with the cut-ups and mood pieces much more successfully. I don’t think this is Medusa’s fault—just the short straw of going first. The other vocal cuts are the completely incomprehensible but rather good “Shades of Orange”, the cosmically weird and wonderful “Planets Aint Aligned” by Freestyle Fellowship and the pick of the bunch, Abstract Rude’s “Inner Eye”. This a general attack on all things Reaganomic and a plea for the opening of eyes and minds. It has a real bite and conviction that is somehow in keeping with the album, while determinedly avoiding the somnolent tendency of some of the non-vocal tracks. The other rap is almost as effective—the uncredited “Faces of the Deep” which is tucked away as a bonus cut on the CD.
What is interesting about this album is that although the vocal cuts enliven the album, they mostly gain in strength from being embedded in the esoterica that make up the instrumental tracks. The whole thing has a surprising coherence. Nobody started out, he says, to make an instrumental beat tape to sell from his own backyard. Ubiquity got interested and he invited some LA rappers to add a little spice. So although the strongest numbers tend to be theirs the album remains very much the work of the producer.
There is a danger of dullness and solemnity in all abstract, downtempo projects such as these. This record does not always avoid that. The hippiness also can wear a little thin. Why do so many people think samples of little children reciting has any charm at all? However, if you are in the right mood, then this is just off-beat enough to minimise the boredom factor and you gradually lose yourself in the various textures and tones on offer.
While I wouldn’t recommend anyone to use this album to get the party started, and while it is not as satisfying as the more jazzy flavours of the West Coast’s leaders in the laid-back stakes (the all-conquering Om label), this is definitely one to at least investigate. Late at night with the headphones on, is my advice. Oh, and if the lyrics of “Shades of Orange” start to make sense you need to moderate your lifestyle.