Mike Ladd: Father Divine

[13 November 2005]

By Stefan Braidwood

“She had a ass that was on gyrate”
—“Barney’s Girl”

“Matter is music”
—Ladd guesting with the Youngblood Brass Band

The last time I wrote a review about Mike Ladd’s music, I enthused about In What Language: a collection of vignettes on the subject of international culture, origin and airports that drew together a multitude of colourful characters into a startling and subtle whole. Since then he’s released Nostalgiagator on German label !K7 (collector of downtempo gems and assorted oddities, as well as the renowned DJ-Kicks series) and brought out the highbrow critique of black music and the treatment of blacks that was Negrophilia, this time on Thirsty Ear and backed up by the Blue Series Continuum. Everyone seemingly hated the former album, and although most of the critics loved the latter it was ridiculously scarce for ages, so I’m afraid I haven’t heard either. Mike hasn’t just been busy musically, either; half way through recording this album he upped sticks to Paris (for how long, I’m unaware), got married and had a child. My warmest congratulations go out to the guy… I just hope my indefinite stay in Paris goes as well.

At any rate, Father Divine will sound familiar to anyone who’s heard Ladd’s earlier Infesticons project or the seminal Welcome to the Afterfuture, if you can call a rough and dusty collection of international samples nailed into ramshackle grooves that waft back from a stoned sci-fi future only months down the line “familiar”. Things aren’t as dystopian lyrically as they were, and this mostly instrumental collection is generally mellower and warmer than his past work; marriage and fatherhood have taking a little of the edge of his anger, it would seem. Ladd remains alone on the mic for about a third of the tracks here, but is joined behind the boards by friend Gymkhana, an analogue electro obsessive who supplied the studio for much of the work done on the album, as well as past collaborator Vijay Iyer on piano and ex-Anti-Pop Consortium/Airborn Audio man High Priest on synths.

The supposed religious concept behind the record is only really evident in the song titles, as on those tracks where Ladd drops lyrics things seem to be on a not-totally-abstract-association tip; the music scene, celebrities and mundane modern life washing into each other over references to what might or might not be Ladd’s own existence—as usual with this man, you might not always be absolutely sure what he’s talking about, but his worldly intelligence, eloquence and earthily oblique sense of humour shine through, and you somehow get the feeling that he’s wittily capturing a small part of contemporary life’s essence and sharing it with you in appreciative celebration. You might call him a beachcomber stranded on the junkpile of modern urban existence, surviving on faith and the odd find, like the woman he fondly gives life to on “Barney’s Girl”, punked and hip-hop’d up yet still smelling “of spring time” (a line he’s already used on a collabo with Edition:Terranova). Musically, “Crooner Island” is the pick of the crop, ambling along on wandering keys and sunny synths for its first half before dropping out, then surfing back in on a mad organ riff (High Priest on the synth?) and going utterly beserk in a partying style that will make every hip-hop cell in your body bounce up and down with joy.

Overall this is a rather disappointing collection of diary scribbles from the mind of a man caught between places physical and imagined, content to play with the dirt and the dust of his existence and occasionally pull out something sexy, fresh and new. Not a great album, but an enjoyable and varied one nonetheless—and that’s not counting the two tracks on the release copy that aren’t on my promo. If they’re anything like as good as “Crooner Island”, you should definitely give this a listen.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/laddmike-father/