Lazerbeak, for those of you who are unaware, is the name of a character from Transformers. Powered by ruby crystals, Lazerbeak is never far from the side of Soundwave, the micro cassette recorder. Aaron Mader, aka Lazerbeak, was obviously a fan and chose his name wisely. On this, his second solo album, the Doomtree member and beats producer has crafted an instrumental album of 80s electronic and hip-hop beats and samples. There is a hefty-looking twenty tracks listed, but, unusually for a hip-hop instrumental album, it comes in at only thirty-eight minutes long. This would suggest Lazerbeak has either been seriously judicious in his editing of the tracks or he has stuck in a number of fillers. Listening through the album a number of times, it may be a bit of both.
There is an element of the mixtape with Lava Bangers as the tracks bleed and merge into one another and jump from heavy-duty hip-hop beats to more soulful funky breaks, with DJ Plain Ole Bill providing the scratches, blending and transitioning to give sheen to the mixtape feel. With the chiming of bells that could be straight out of a Spaghetti Western, “Mighty Jungle” kicks of the album, propelled by a furious drumbeat and electro piano that brings to mind Chilly Gonzales. It’s a good start to the album, but is let down by the slightly awkward transition into “Walk It Out”, a more Ibiza house sounding track complete with Spanish guitar outro which then becomes the intro to “Smash It”, which doesn’t really offer much to the listener.
“LRL” picks up the pace though with the thunderous drums returning and the track built around a looped female vocal line and chopped up/staccato beats. This is a real head nodder of a track and you can feel the processes that Lazerbeak has undertaken in his studio in creating this track, building it layer by layer. “Bully” is all brooding deep piano chords. It is a cut that promises much but peters out somewhat, crying out for an emcee to rhyme over the top. Perhaps filler is too harsh a word but, as with a number of other tracks on the album, it seems like Lazerbeak is throwing these solid instrumental songs out there in the hope someone will pick them up and use them as a backing for their rhymes. “Like That” and “Had Enough” invokes some old school soul nostalgia in me, although updated for the neo-soul crowd, (dare I say almost Moby-like?), while “Sweat Set” brings in a far-eastern sounding elements through flutes samples before heading back in to Chilly Gonzales territory with “Finally Back”.
This run of songs is fairly short and I can’t help but feel slightly frustrated with Lazerbeak here. Just as the songs hit their stride they’re over, but I want more. Again, I’m left with a sense that these songs are almost like audition pieces, waiting for an appropriate suitor to come along and take them off his hands to be used in some huge hip hop smash hit. The rest of the album is in similar vein, with the odd intrusion of Asian flutes and what sounds like dhol drums on “Thimble Man” and the very Lemon Jelly sounding closer “Lift Every Voice”.
There is much to enjoy on this album. It’s obvious that Lazerbeak is a great producer with a developed sonic palette and deft skills in assembling songs from multiple samples and beats. But the album doesn’t feel complete. Whether it needs more vocals, sung or rapped, or whether some of the tracks need to be fleshed out, it’s hard to say. My gut feeling is that a number these tracks will turn up on other songs rather than being developed by Lazerbeak. Not quite in the class of Madlib perhaps, but Lazerbeak will continue to be in demand by those looking for some hard rocking beats.