Metaform: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

[4 May 2008]

By Andrew Martin

It seems like every new instrumental hip-hop release automatically has two comparisons thrown at it: The album is either in the vein of DJ Shadow or J Dilla, with the latter being used the most since his passing. Many times, the only resemblance to Dilla is the fact that there are no vocals used. Very few artists have actually captured the late Detroit producer’s sound. And, not surprisingly, those that did were influenced by him through collaborations in the past (Madlib, for example). Others, such as Black Milk, grew up in the same area while listening to Dilla’s beats during their formative years. For the most part, it’s a lazy way of saying, “Hey, this album has [enter adjective here] beats!”

The same can go for comparing a producer to Shadow and his genre-bending masterpiece Endtroducing .... Although critics and fans are more apt to use Dilla first, probably to sound timely or relevant, some people still toss Shadow’s name out there. What is most bizarre about all of this is that these two producers, although both legendary in their own right, are nothing alike. Outside of the genre they both love, it’s a total apples and oranges thing here.

So you can understand my apprehension in reading the press release attached to Metaform’s Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. Honestly, I have had enough of the Dilla imitators who think they can chop a sample and replicate the rawness of Donuts. The same goes for those trying to reach the levels of Shadow’s epic.

Just as I expected, Metaform’s only resemblance to Dilla is the hint of jazz scattered throughout. When it comes to Shadow, it’s clear that Metaform has worshiped at his altar. But that’s not to say this is a copycat album. This producer isn’t just your typical crate digger. He’s also a multi-instrumentalist, which allows him to breathe new life into samples and manipulate them as he sees fit beyond typical means.

From beginning to end, this album hits you with an amalgam of the Avalanches, Shadow, RJD2, and most importantly, Metaform himself. Soul, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, electronica … they’re all here. And they blend seamlessly. “Barbie Doll” is akin to a fish-bowled The Go! Team. “Rock It Number Nine”, the gorgeous album opener, is danceable, yet melancholy. The same goes for the soulful “Urban Velvet” and its near-perfect instrumentation. From the drums to the sampled vocals, it all works. Speaking of drums, Metaform’s ear for them is impeccable. Each song is riddled with head-nodding beats that rock as much as they bump.

The slower-paced tracks on this 45-minute journey through sound are just as hypnotizing as those calling on your inner dancer. “Sunday” and “Lonely Boy” are mellow romps sure to find placement on any music lover’s relaxation playlist. Interestingly enough, “Lonely Boy” features the same sample used by Danger Mouse on “Basket Case” off Mouse and the Mask. Metaform’s version is similar, but with a more comatose, smoked-out feel.

What we have here is a 19-track collection that is as varied as it is strong. And it doesn’t lose you for a second. Metaform’s sound might be rooted in standing on the shoulders of giants like Shadow and RJD2, but this is more than paying homage. This record is a clear indicator that genres can still be mashed successfully and beautifully, with nary a negative in sight. Metaform’s only weakness is that certain tracks tend to blend together. But when that’s all I can think of to critique his work, you know he’s truly done something special.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/metaform-standing-on-the-shoulders-of-giants/