[16 February 2010]
When Money Mark branched out beyond his role as the keyboardist for the Beastie Boys into the realm of a solo act in his own right, he helped insert a dusty and experimental new hybrid of groove-based music into the modern pop lexicon with the release of his 1995 debut, the lo-fi funk masterpiece Mark’s Keyboard Repair, on UNKLE mastermind James LaVelle’s sorely missed Mo’ Wax imprint.
Though subsequent albums saw Mark incorporate more elements of songwriting to his largely instrumental base—as the Money man does, in fact, have a fine singing voice—this newly formed supergroup formed with two of the most direct descendents of the style he helped pioneer finds Mark making a triumphant return to the realms of wordless composition. Lord Newborn & the Magic Skulls features Money Mark on a grand arsenal of keyboards, his onetime Mo’ Wax labelmate and former pro skateboard hero Tommy Guerrero on guitars, and funk impresario Shawn Lee on the drumkit. Any fan of the catalogs of all three of these men, or the high quality acid funk Ubiquity Records is known to drop on heads year in and year out, should see this monumental union of talent as great cause for celebration.
Seeming to take cues from old Lalo Schifrin and Roy Budd film soundtracks, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Ark days, electric Miles Davis, and the golden age of the Beasties’ early ‘90s studio rat period, the album goes for the throat straightaway with opening track “A Phase Shifter I’m Going Through”. It’s a fuzzy, freaky variation of the 12-bar blues standard that offers the listener a pretty accurate indication of the ride he or she is about to embark upon over the course of this 13-track workout. Elsewhere, elements of Bobbi Humphrey’s funky flute appear on “Rainy Day Dog”, while “Ancient Scrolls” bubbles with a trippy dub riddim. Fans of Guerrero’s Santana-styled guitar flavor on such Mo’ Wax classics as 2000’s A Little Bit of Somethin’ and 2003’s Soul Food Taqueria will most certainly gravitate towards tracks like “That’s Right (It’s Time to Get Down)” and “L.I.V.E.”, while those in favor of Money Mark’s quixotic keyboard trickery will certainly be all about “Dime Bag Conspiracy” and “Ring a Ding Ding Ding”.
For fans of the heady, abstract grooves this trio has created under their own individual auspices, the formation of Lord Newborn & the Magic Skulls is the new school funk equivalent to Them Crooked Vultures, the magnanimous hard rock group helmed by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and Nirvana/Foo Fighters drummer Dave Grohl—three musicians who have mastered their respective crafts coming together for the sole purpose of blowing your mind. Here’s hoping Ubiquity pushes these cats to keep this thing going, as it will be mighty interesting to see where these masters of groove take us next.