Music

Blockhead: The Music Scene

Returning to the darkness that he was so comfortable with on his first two albums, Blockhead sounds like he's home and loving it.


Blockhead

The Music Scene

Label: Ninja Tune
UK Release Date: 2010-01-18
US Release Date: 2010-01-12
Online Release Date: 2009-11-03
Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Levity doesn't come easily to Blockhead.

After two albums in two years of dense, moody, dark instrumental hip-hop, Blockhead's answer to those who would tell him to lighten up appeared in 2007, a limited edition release called Uncle Tony's Coloring Book. Uncle Tony's Coloring Book still sounded like Blockhead, but it sounded like a version of Blockhead that was actively trying to push a little happy into the still-dense mix. The result was an interesting album that was undoubtedly well-constructed, but just didn't seem as though it felt comfortable with its own identity. It was almost impossible to tell whether the good vibes, when they appeared, were borne of sincerity or irony.

Blockhead is also the man who wrote the following passage as part of a list of things he loves in his column for Definitive Jux:

Oh, but wait, that reminds me...I forgot, who am I kidding, I have mad hate in my heart...and it goes like this...

...after which the list turns into things he hates. The guy just can't fake happy for too long.

The Music Scene, then, returns to a version of Blockhead that truly sounds as though it's a reflection of the man behind it. By returning to the darkness that he was so comfortable with on first two albums Music by Cavelight and Downtown Science (not to mention his highly celebrated work with Aesop Rock), Blockhead sounds like he's home and loving it.

The very first track, "It's Raining Clouds", stands head and shoulders above anything he'd done previously in his solo career, setting an awfully high bar for the rest of the album. It starts off like the typical Blockhead track, with a slow-to-mid-tempo hip-hop beat, ominous synths, and a well-placed vocal sample. A little more than halfway through, however, it turns into an uptempo breakbeat workout no less dark than the typical Blockhead track but somehow more energetic. It's the type of track that sounds like a mission statement, a statement of intent to push his sound into places it hasn't gone before, even as it sounds as natural coming out of him as anything on those first two albums.

Even if the rest of the album never quite manages to hit the heights of "It's Raining Clouds", there are certainly a fair share of high points to find throughout, most of which evolve from foundations reminiscent of Music By Cavelight or Downtown Science. "Attack the Doctor" starts out with one of the slow-tempo rollers he could probably crank out in his sleep at this point, but about halfway through the track, this absolutely nutty vocal melody shows up, turning it into something a little crazy, a little disturbing. A metal guitar sounds as though it's going to fade in, but it quickly gets cut out by by a slow acoustic line before it even has a chance to complete the fade. Turns out, it's foreshadowing for "The Daily Routine", bar none the darkest of the dark on this disc. Those sludgy metal guitars that we almost heard in "Attack the Doctor" are low in the mix, providing texture for the beat behind them and taking a backseat to a very human shouting match that shows up intermittently to make us uncomfortable. This is powerful music; this is art. It's a harsh statement of just how awful we can be to each other on a daily basis.

As Blockhead expands his reach, however, those tracks that don't scale such heights stand out as weak. "Tricky Turtle" tries to survive on a silly vocal sample that seems designed to introduce levity, but just comes off as distracting. "Which One of You Jerks Drank My Arnold Palmer?" might be the best song title in recorded music so far this year, but it's a cover for an utterly unremarkable bit of filler. Even the title track, despite another well-placed vocal sample, carries a decent beat and nothing more.

It's tough to bridge the gap between good and great; if your album is consistently good, it'll be respected but not adored. If your album contains any greatness at all, the mediocre bits that exist are magnified. Parts of The Music Scene flirt with and even achieve greatness, standing tall as instrumentals any music fan would be advised to hear. Regrettably, the tracks in the box labeled "same old Blockhead" stick out amongst such greatness, keeping the album from achieving same. Still, now we have an idea of his potential.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image