Lee Bannon: Fantastic Plastic

[28 May 2012]

By Michael Frauenhofer

While the general structure and vibe of Lee Bannon’s Plug Research release Fantastic Plastic should be fairly familiar to connoisseurs of hip-hop’s most blunted and fragmented aestheticists—Bannon certainly seems to have listened to his fair share of Stones Throw records, which is rarely a bad thing for any hip-hop artist—for every flipped beat that aesthetically echoes something from a Madlib or Dilla joint, he’s just as likely to go off in a direction completely his own, as in the berserk synth breakdown at the end of “In Color”. He’s most definitely got the chops to pull off sick traditional loops, and when his guest vocalists pop up, he puts them to good use. Given the caliber of some of his guests, like Del tha Funky Homosapien and Inspectah Deck, that’s great news to hear.

Surprisingly, though, some of the most enjoyable and interesting moments here come when Bannon seems to let the music follow his whims where they take it, through dusty patchworks of samples, loops and found sounds. Judging by the ratio of traditional beat-with-a-rapper segments to straight instrumentals and more obsessive experimentation, Bannon seems to feel similarly, and he often seems willing to take his unusual leanings farther than one would expect, to some atypically music-theory-nerd math-rock-y places. At the same time, though, he never lets any one idea go for too long, and the end result is pleasingly varied—a record with something substantial to offer devotees of the avant-garde that’s still eminently smooth and listenable.

“Search & Destroy” marries a slow, distinctly hip-hop groove to a quieter but much faster chiptune-reminiscent beat. The two sync up perfectly, complementary, to an extent, but the breakneck faster beat increases in volume until it has overwhelmed the slower synth sound and that synth begins to pulse with it, derailing any traditional hip-hop feel and replacing it with twitchy, insistently pounding electronic sounds. This goes on longer than you would think, to the point of probably frustrating anyone who just showed up to hear Chuck Inglish flow, but then it all dissolves into a warm wash of heavily distorted/processed organ that, for all its buzzing roughness, is surprisingly beautiful. As the organ warbles, alone, for a bit, then fades out, it feels like a cleansing of the palate, a reward for sticking it out through the choppier, harsher parts. By my third or fourth time through the album, these choppier, harsher parts were pretty rewarding in and of themselves; Bannon always finds a groove, no matter where it may fall on the spectrum of “classic boom-bap” to “eccentrically spastic”. When taken from start to finish, “Search & Destroy” is actually a pretty solid encapsulation of the way Fantastic Plastic works as a whole—Bannon leads with a strong, classicist beat to get your attention and prove he can command traditionalist respect, riffs on it straight into left field without noodling or overstaying his welcome there, and then throws in something totally unexpected to put a nice bow on it.

It’s a pleasing potpourri, though your overall mileage may vary if one of the main elements is decidedly not to your taste—those with low patience for anything that’s not constantly danceable will probably have the most trouble with it. But if you can appreciate both the solidly workmanlike ‘90s revivalism of Elzhi and the murky, freewheeling improvisation of Yesterdays New Quintet, you are in luck! This has the soul of both those things, and it embodies both of those aspects very, very well.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/157836-lee-bannon-fantastic-plastic/