[16 September 2004]
The electronic/hip-hop hybrid works for Headset. The smart robot backdrops on the Spacesettings LP follow the cunning verse well, maybe even as well as the blips and bleeps that made up some of Viktor Vaughn’s Vaudeville Villain LP from last year. Of course, the record is challenging in parts, and the names on Headset’s Spacesettings may not be as well known as Doom and his many metal faces, but the formula of crossing electronic beatmaking and hip-hop is just as successful here. It’s really no surprise, though. Allen Avanessian’s Plug Research label is consistently turning out some splendid, interesting works.
Humbly beginning as a young DJ and moving into production work, Allen Avanessian scribbled up the blueprint for Plug Research some ten years ago. Since then, the label has made significant strides in providing electronic music for the jaded masses. In 2004 alone, Plug Research has passed along a notable laundry list of worthwhile releases. While the label seems to have been functioning superbly, Allen was able to set aside time to collaborate with another well-known name in the genre, Jimmy Tamborello, to put together the Headset album.
Tamborello is known for several of his own successful projects: The Postal Service and Dntel to name a couple. He and Avanessian produced most of Spacesettings with the help of instrumental hip-hop artist Daedelus and a couple of others. As the glasses-clad gent from Death Cab is nowhere to be found on this one, the result is a unique hip-hop/electronica blend, featuring some hypnotic instrumentals and verse from some under-the-radar greats.
After we hear from Metalogic, Non-GENETIC, and Rocmon on “Then Again”, the album’s intriguing opening scene, Non-Genetic takes the wheel all by his lonesome on the second track over Jimmy and Allen’s beats. The MC brags about his old schoolness over psychedelic winding bass tones and clicks and squeals that come from all directions. He shouts out to the other gents in Shadow Huntaz, his crew, whose existence can be traced to “back when it was all black, no sun rays before gunplay before crime didn’t pay”. The chorus is the album’s most memorable, as Non’s vocal is doubled and the beatmakers treat it to the same batch of hash brownie effects that the rest of the track has been run through. Catchy, weird hip-hop that gets weirder here as the record reaches one of its peaks in the form of Lady Dragon, who matches her frenzied Japanese flow to the prime beats characterizing “Grasping Claw”.
There are some eerie background tones and some pieces of a bassline that eventually become whole in the first few seconds of the fifth track, “Grasping Claw”. Following this brief introduction, a wall of clicking percussion not entirely far from a baseball card in conflict with some bicycle spokes comes into play. The beats are everywhere, and Lady Dragon makes her venomous entrance, spitting over the album’s speedier of tempos and competing successfully with anesthetizing accompaniment.
As Headset’s compositions are what Avanessian calls a “progressive move for electronic music,” they’re not as easy to swallow as what the average producer and/or DJ are throwing down. Sometimes they’re rather minimal quests, as in “Jaw Modulation”, where Antipop’s Beans kills it on one of Spacesettings’ less busy tracks. Sure, Headset isn’t dropping run-of-the-mill stuff here, so some patience is required, but it’s the same kind of patience that Avanessian may be asking for with his other releases. It’s Plug Research’s rewarding formula, even if it takes a few listens.