It’s been hard for trip-hop/turntabalist junkies lately. Our old, and often most popular, dealers who fed us thick beats laced with trumpet bursts and soul samples have since faded into the alleys or are peddling something entirely different. DJ Shadow argues that mainstream hip-hop is worth saving on The Outsider and loses some of his original brilliance in the process. RJD2 goes pop on The Third Hand and succeeds in making something sound so familiar yet so bland. Portishead is back but with no album yet, and Tricky only occasionally appears on remixes. So it is reluctance tempered only by relief, that what was once lost or hidden in trip-hop is now found in France.
Wax Tailor, a.k.a. JC Le Saoût, has taken the corner. His sophomore release, Hope & Sorrow, has the gravity that one sees on Shadow’s Endtroducing or Portishead’s debut. With the playfulness of the Avalanches, this second outing maintains the sample-based quirkiness that Le Saoût introduced on his previous effort, Tales of the Forgotten Melodies, but evolves to a work of true originality. The mood is set quickly and confidently with the opener “Once Upon a Past”, with its chanting reverberating over a Portishead-like thumping mixed with the nu-jazz wickedness of Herbaliser. Modern R&B standout Sharon Jones gets a backing fit for Shirley Bassey on “The Way We Live” that constantly pulls back and forth to give Jones’s most soulful cries just enough time to keep it moving forward. Female contributors, such as spoken-word queen Ursula Rucker and French songstress Charlotte Savary, make a good showing, but nothing as bright as the Voice’s. Like a viper coiling back for just the right slither, the female rapper takes a flute-laden instrumental and turns it into a menacing dance.
It’s not as gimmicky as the Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist”, although “The Tune” also uses circa-1950s spoken word samples to similar effect. The clever interplay of narration is cute, but the real hook is the haunting snippet of Buddy Holly’s “There Goes My Baby”. Jazz samples over students of the T.R.I.B.E. ASM and Marina keep it crisp on “Positively Inclined” so the instrumentals are accentuated, not pushed to the background. As this and Copywrite’s work with RJD2 has shown, the MC’s role as promoter—not showboater—is hip-hop at is best. A Busta Rhymes sample phases to the Others’ forgettable spiel on “House of Wax”. The loss is quickly compensated with the creaky piano tinkling on “Beyond Words” that recalls some of the forgotten soul drops on DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. The case could be made that Wax Tailor’s newest is more a pastiche of innovators’ past work than an original work. Somehow, he has been able to lift the best elements of trip-hop pioneers and created a darkly cinematic update of a day past or simply across the ocean. So be it. Wax Tailor is no Johnny Hallyday.