[15 January 2009]
For J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science’s sophomore effort, Soul Vibrations, the group has created another collection of jazz/soul/funk/hip-hop-infused tracks that will inspire your inner ass-shaker. But the album’s weaknesses float to the surface as the 15 songs progress. They offer little in terms of variety and/or innovation, which leads to a skip-filled listen. And even though J-Boogie and his group of guests are certainly talented, they play it safe on here. If you are looking for something to instantly come out and grab you, move along. But should you be in the market for a smooth trip to the West Coast where the attitude of chillin’ and layin’ low rules, Soul Vibrations could very well be what you need.
Producer J-Boogie, who has produced remixes for the likes of DJ Vadim and Mark Farina, has made a name for himself over the years as a go-to-guy for the type of tunes heard throughout this album. He specializes in meshing that old school boom-bap with hints of electronica and soul. And they either hit just as J-Boogie intended or they fall flat on their collective musical face. Fortunately for the producer, his better tracks overpower the weaker ones, but many of those tracks also don’t resonate as well as they should. So on one hand, you have a surefire hit like “Alive”, which features spiritual, positive rapping from the Crown City Rockers. The catchy beat combined with the emcees’ fun lyricism could have been enough, but crooner Jrod Indigo adds a necessary R&B tinge. “1.4.U.”, a hip-hop love song that you just do not hear much of anymore, is another instant standout. Most of the blame for that is placed on the shoulders of Ohmega Watts, who you should check out if you don’t know the name. Although it might be a stretch, he sounds almost as convincing as Common did on “The Light”. And the beautiful vocals from Ragen Fykes are the perfect contrast to Watts’ rhymes.
Although those three hip-hop anthems are fantastic, they are the only two that don’t fade into the background. Sure, “Inferno” could get “your ass up on the floor” as the rappers from Lunar Heights proclaim, but it’s also too corny for its own good. And “For Your Love” nearly hits as hard as “1.4.U.”, but Zumbi, of Zion I, isn’t nearly as smooth as Watts, though it’s still a damn fine track. But the others—“Revolution”, “Que Pasa?”, and “Same Ol’ Thang”—are not strong enough to hold your attention. That’s a shame, too, because they all have potential, particularly J-Boogie’s production on “Same Ol’ Thang”, which is full of airy synths and classic hip-hop drums.
The same unbalanced problems plague the more soul- and R&B-heavy tracks as well. Also, few of these cuts stand up on their own. “Dirty”, which is wrought with blues and jazz influences, is painfully average, partially due to a dull appearance by singer Tim’m West. “Together”, a track primed for play at a summer barbecue, and “Alegria”, a relaxing trip to paradise, might make up for “Dirty”, but they are also less than stellar. The only true heavyweight of this vocals-focused bunch is “Leave It All Behind”. While it’s true that Aima the Dreamer, of the Mamaz, does spit on this one, the chorus is what makes the track soulful and, above all, a pleasant listen. It also helps that J-Boogie’s beat is hypnotizing and the accompanying instrumentation is gorgeous. As strong as her showing is on “Leave It All Behind”, however, Aima nearly spoils it on the shout-out-laden “Out to the Bay”. A track like this might be a humble showing of appreciation, but, like others of its kind, it is mostly a snoozefest. And it doesn’t help that “Chopsticks”, the only instrumental on here, could have easily ended the album.
It’s difficult to place a solid number score for an album of this nature. At times, you can get wrapped up in J-Boogie’s mellow beats. But then there are times you spin Soul Vibrations and something just feels off. And even the more killer tracks on here can grow tiring unless you are in the mood for them. Unfortunately, that mood will most likely not strike you enough to make this an instant purchase.