[24 January 2006]
For all intents and purposes, Shakeyface (Daniel Smiley on his tax returns) is still a rookie in the world of independent electronic / hip-hop production. Sure, he’s been DJing in and around the New York City scene for some time, and he even released an EP, Puddle Jumping During a Monsoon, in 2002 to favorable reviews. It’s been a long time since 2002, however, and only now is he finally getting around to releasing his debut longplayer on the fantastically named It’s Bananas Records. The album is called Bicycle Day Boogaloo, and it’s an album that certainly means well, but can’t help but fall into many of the traps of the typical debut.
The most telling trait of a rookie debut is inconsistency, a trait that Bicycle Day Boogaloo is chock full of. The good news is that this means that there are brilliant spots to go with the, shall we say, less brilliant spots, times when the album sounds like it has the potential to be really great if not for the coasting quality of the rest of the disc. Album opener “Floating Devils Are the Ones to Look Out For” is one of these bursts of inspiration, starting on a slightly skewed music box melody, eventually introducing a thick, syncopated beat, and slowly morphing into a dark electro exercise marked by minor keys, pianos, and distortion. Eventually, the song finishes back in happier pastures, and Smiley proves himself adept with transition and mood shift. As it turns out, it is those two abilities that shine the brightest of any of the skills in Smiley’s arsenal, ones that are used to mind-bending effect throughout the album.
The skillful transition work doesn’t always occur within self-contained songs, either—the transitions between the songs are largely seamless, surely a display of Smiley’s DJ experience. The transition from “Song for Hank” into “Mmm Hmm” is particularly spiffy, transforming a sweeping, melancholy experience into a dance track with a touch of Spanish guitar.
It is perhaps because of the display of talent Smiley presents us with right off the bat that so much of Bicycle Day Boogaloo is so disappointing. The shift seems to happen right around the fifth track, entitled “The Art of Moving”, one of the only tracks on the CD to feature extensive use of a vocal sample. In the case of “The Art of Moving”, the vocal sample would seem to be a crutch, as the words “Move your ass, girl” are cut up and spliced in rhythmic fashion over a repetitive, unimaginative instrumental track whose most noteworthy features are some 80s-style percussion noises and the occasional record scratch. From here on out, it would seem that Smiley is tapped out of his transitional ability, content to settle into a groove and ride it out for entire tracks. “Bassism” is jazzy and appealing on the surface, but when it doesn’t go anywhere for four minutes, there’s no desire to return to it. Similarly, “A Certain Way with Things” starts on a fantastic 70s R&B groove, but doesn’t do much more than meander for four minutes—occasionally Smiley employs a little bit of harmonic dissonance and eventually adds some vocal samples, but without a dancefloor or a disco ball to heighten the experience, it’s all so much sonic cotton.
After the less than astounding middle of the album, however, it’s nice to know that the Shakeyface experience not only starts with a bang, but finishes strong as well. Penultimate track “Looking Ahead” features a clean, stuttery beat, pretty tinkly noises, and a prominent, fuzzy bass noise that contains most of the song’s melody. It’s the sun breaking through the clouds, a bud finding its way through a particularly solid mass of dirt—a nice touch toward the end of a decent disc. “As I Was Saying” finishes Bicycle Day Boogaloo on the wings of minor-key pianos and intricately programmed bass drums, leaving this listener quite satisfied, thank you very much.
So maybe Shakeyface can’t put together a complete album yet—it’s all right, most veteran artists have a hard time with that, too. At least he knows how to draw a listener in at the beginning and leave them wanting more once it’s over. In fact, it turns out that he doesn’t come off as such a rookie after all.