Socalled: Sleepover

Matthew Fiander

If Socalled's last record was about knocking down cultural walls, this is about the sweet synthesis that happens long after those borders have blurred.



US Release: 2011-09-27
UK Release: 2011-09-27
Label: Dare to Care

Canadian hip-hop eccentric Socalled is known mostly as the dude who meshed Klezmer – the traditional Jewish dance music – with hip-hop. His last album, 2007's Ghettoblaster, was an odd and brilliant album, one that subverted our ideas of what hip-hop could be by playing with both new influences and different structures. On top of his seamless meshing of Klezmer styles and sounds, he also shifted the shape of verses, so that songs often morphed as they go.

The real success in all of this, though, is that none of this sounds like novelty. What makes his music stand out isn't that it involves an influence not usually represented in rap music; it's that he executes it so well. At base, Socalled's talent as a musician and producer is breaking down the walls around different genres, meshing disparate elements in culture to make a new fascinating whole. He's unapologetically quirky – even nerdy, in the best way possible – but his music never feel pretentious or weird for weird's sake. His patchwork musical vision and playful eccentricity continue on his latest record, Sleepover, and they feel as fresh as they ever have.

The one thing to note right up front is that the Klezmer influence takes a backseat on this record. It's there, without a doubt, but this is an album more concerned with other traditions. In some ways, it comes off as more of an R&B record than a hip-hop record. Socalled rarely raps himself, yielding a few verses to other emcees like compatriot C-Ray Walz. Instead we get a lot of singing from the beautiful voice of Katie Moore and guest spots from other singers like Roxanne Shante. The use of soul music here, and these smooth singers, makes for a less frantic sound than we heard on Ghettoblaster. If that record was about knocking down cultural walls, this is about the sweet synthesis that happens long after those borders have blurred.

Perhaps that more relaxed feeling makes the unfailing optimism of the record feel so honest and believable. These songs deal in plainspoken declaration. "Work With What You Got" is all about personal power. "If you have an idea, just think it," the song insists. "Kid Again" returns again and again to the line, "When I grow up I just want / want to be a kid again," in a way that embraces both responsibility and a more carefree joie de vivre. "Beautiful" is a brilliant bit of Stax balladry all about loving someone for what they are. It's a basic sentiment – bordering on schmaltz – but it's also guileless and soulful enough to make it work.

The album also takes a few darker turns to solid effect. The troubling shuffle of "Told Me So" is drenched in regret. Moore's voice is strained, high and cracking, as she pines "I can't believe you left me when I told you go." The music behind here is just as shadowy and dragged down, with keening flutes and aching voices sampled into the mix to haunt it perfectly. "(Oh No There's) No More Snow" is where we hear the most rapping from Socalled on the record, and he laments climate change with an impressively smooth flow that makes you wish he spit more here. It's another song that's a bit on the nose, but the funky beat – with a great tumbling bass line – sells it. The strangest track here is "Springhill Mine Disaster", a Celtic-folk number patched into the middle of a hip-hop/R&B record. The piano work nearly connects it to the rest of the record, but mostly it's a bold tangent on an otherwise cohesive album, and the jarring shift makes for one of the more inspired moments on Sleepover.

The subtlety he brings to these beats here is a nice evolution from the more self-conscious layers of Ghettoblaster, but it can border on simplicity. Opener "UNLVD" is full with horns and odd samples, but they don't stop it from feeling like early-'90s R&B radio fodder. On the other end of the record, the closing title track, is charming in its goofball approach to a party tune, but when the line "Girls in their nightgowns, we gonna pull their panties down" repeats, it's neither funny enough to be a joke nor a convincing shift to discussing sex for Socalled.

Sleepover, though, hits far more than it misses, and shows a fine, streamlined step forward in Socalled's sound. He doesn't push too hard to be an outlier here, and instead lets his eccentricities show in more deeply embedded and convincing ways. Still, you can't help but miss the excitement that came from the brash production of Ghettoblaster, and while the sense of community on this record is heartening, Socalled lets himself get lost in the shuffle a bit too often. He lets his production do the talking here, but in doing so he drowns out the best tool in his repertoire: his personality.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

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

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