DJ DNA: Impressionism

[27 September 2004]

By Dominic Umile

Contributing Editor

DJ DNA only allows for a minute or so of Special Ed’s “I Got it Made” to spin in the background over raging heads for the intro to Impressionism. He does this to reveal a small piece of what he will convey throughout the record: that his album is a culmination of what has made a lasting musical impression on him over the years. Impressionism is DNA’s jukebox of what gets him going, as well as a thank-you note to those who have cut and scratched dusty soul breaks to bits prior to his record-making days.

The sources of the alchemy on Impressionism share major commonalities with those that feed the minds and crates of Cut Chemist and Shadow. This is not a bad thing. The DJ record analysis forum is forever littered with references to Shadow and the like, just as My Bloody Valentine or Ride are the standard throwbacks when discussing any outfit who makes more out of the instruments they are to plug in and perform with. It’s easy to put a record in the category of another, and it’s just as easy to exclaim “Shadow!” (or nowadays, the industrious RJD2) when any decent DJ effort surfaces at the record store. DNA’s album obviously has moments that call for such comparison, yes, but it is also overrun with a new and evolving party blueprint.

Justin Adams recognizes that any sleeve holding an instrumental record must be ever-interesting, even without the vocals, if his curt moniker is going to be sprawled across the front. He’s right in thinking this—there’s plenty more to the DJ record than a series of looped beats for you and your dorm buddies to freestyle over. Now that dinner table conversations have turned to instrumental hip hop records and production as of late, before our parents and elderly co-workers are discussing downloaded Green Lantern tracks we may still have time to discuss relevant ventures like Impressionism in confident circles (though I fear this revolution is right around the corner and the underground will be getting quite comfy up here).

After he pulls a ‘60s fuzz-laden message from Nuggets ravers the Music Machine on “Destruction’s Theme”, DJ DNA dusts off some more psych garage rock for a revolving door of funk and soulful breaks. He introduces new drum pieces here and there, and cuts into some riffs from completely different records, but they somehow slip in unison and the changes go nearly unnoticed. DNA keeps within his native California sound rather diligently, peppering his cymbal-heavy drum loops with paisley guitar feedback and a repeated vocal sample. This notion is applied throughout Impressionism in his candid suggestion that he’s not just borrowing from ideas from his predecessors for his medleys, and he doesn’t mind digging through the yard sale bins either.

Back in June 2004, Bomb Hip Hop dropped DNA’s “When Day Breaks, Night Falls” 12” to appease interested parties. This track must be the one he was working out when he began spinning in sweaty basements back some ten years ago. It lands in the 11th slot on the full-length, and draws the Shadow/Cut Chemist comparisons pretty heavily. In the right sweaty basement, with the right amount of flat beer flooding your gullet, one could find him/herself in a bit of a whirlwind during DNA’s non-stop party track. He’s scratching, stopping, starting, and just about knocking the tables over until it cuts out, damn abruptly, at just over four minutes. It complements well its natural B-Side, “Re-Balance”, also appearing here in full volume blasts of drunken scratching and wah-wah pedal delirium. DNA re-balances the wobbling tables here by changing the tempo over and over again, leaving no side unscathed.

DJ DNA is also a little more blatant about his influences when he wears them on his sleeve for the album’s title track. It’s a montage of his hip-hop faves, a piece of everything from Dre to Digable to Dr. Octagon, and many others before exiting through pleasant Raekwon country. This is his shout-out, but sequenced together in his own vein. It plays a little strangely, smack dab in the middle of his own often striking compositions, but it’s his personal homage. The rest of Impressionism is a greater homage, probably, to what has been and what DNA’s doing: using his skills and his record collection to keep the party turning over, and barely stopping his quaking tables from doing the same.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/djdna-impressionism/