Blockhead: Music by Cavelight

Dominic Umile

A couple of Blockhead's experiments on Music by Cavelight are indicators of the producer's tendency to never allow the piece to move in one consistent direction.


Music by Cavelight

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2004-03-23
UK Release Date: 2004-03-29

More often than not in Charles Schultz's extensive catalog of work, it is poor Charlie Brown who is branded a blockhead ad nauseum for his foul-ups on the baseball diamond, as well as his repeated vocal blunders about life in general. But this unfortunate moniker is tossed to Linus when a most disappointing Halloween is attributed to his misguided declarations about the mythical Great Pumpkin. When Linus convinces Charlie Brown's sister to stick around and wait all night for his imaginary hero, she grows incredulously angry for several reasons.

Because of what she's been told, Sally is under the impression that something great will happen here. She's ticked about missing out on candy and Halloween, and most importantly, she is completely deprived of sleep until she is wise enough to abandon her blanket-loving cohort and head home. Well-known hip-hop DJ and producer Blockhead's strong Ninja Tune debut may have disappointed Sally, too, but only because she's damn impatient.

Blockhead hails from New York City, where the obstacles for a DJ trying to get his name on something other than countless self-produced mixtapes are fairly immense. His partnership with Def Juxer Aesop Rock manifested itself swimmingly on Aesop's first full-length, but gained the producer noticeable underground street cred on the highly praised Labor Days follow-up. His work on Labor Days outshines what a lot of producers will hope to obtain decades from now. Blockhead is forward-thinking on Aesop's 2001 masterwork; applying a creepy and subtle sensibility to the emcee's signature growl. His compositions are the most-discussed gems on the album and make up the bulk of the release. He has since been actively producing other hip-hop albums in and out of the Def Jux dynasty, but Music by Cavelight hearkens back quite a bit to the bleak wasteland of gloomy beats that backed Labor Days and the Daylight follow-up EP.

Linus's friend missed the boat in the pumpkin patch, as whiny kids will do. Like the Peanuts' Halloween mishap, the magic here is in the wait itself. Blockhead cleverly takes the opportunity to sample the Peanuts gang shouting his name on Cavelight's opener. Even the impatient Sally Brown shows up here, while Omega One, who scratches all throughout Labor Days, cuts the producer's misleading professional name to bits on the "Hello Poptartz" introductory track. The beat here is a sleepy head-bobber, laced with somber organ and an acoustic guitar loop. It's not as dark as the Aesop instrumentals CD, a brief collection of Blockhead's solid early work that fortunately comes with Music by Cavelight, but the album's intro instead announces his presence both with the novel sample and a sultry groove.

The aforementioned Labor Days's gloominess takes hold after the album's first couple of minutes with a series of ominous and rather chunky soundscapes. Blockhead allows snippets of a creepy string section loop to filter into "Carnivores Unite" and exit with live guitar accompaniment and bits of shrill trumpet. These bits and pieces that he has so quizzically weaved together are not merely reminiscent of his previous work, but also indicate his development and experimentation with the genre.

A couple of Blockhead's experiments on Music by Cavelight are indicators of the producer's tendency to never allow the piece to move in one consistent direction. In this, he masks a track so that the end of it obviously resembles the opening seconds, but could conceivably be taken for a different selection altogether. In "Sunday Séance", a solemn piano melody is elevated with synth-sounding horns and a ghostly incomprehensible vocal loop. The marching beat remains the same throughout, but by the end, the piece has changed so much that it's almost an entirely new work.

When the record falls a bit short in the middle area, Blockhead's tendency to reassemble things comes into play again. He closes remarkably with the album's most extraordinary offering. "Insomniac Olympics" begins with jubilant horns and an underlying hopeful drive to success, as one would expect any Olympic ceremony to begin. New accompaniment ideas are introduced at an even-tempered rate and the middle section includes an unlikely marriage of vocal and wah pedal. This greatness is the sort of thing that Sally Brown would miss out on because of her ridiculous lack of patience and focus.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.