It seems that nary a day goes by without some musical milestone being celebrated. Whether it be a super deluxe reassessment of a misunderstood classic or another tour commemorating an artist’s commercial peak, we are bombarded with reminders of the past. Naturally, there are plenty of achievements that deserve to honoured and no more so than the achievements of the Brainfeeder label over the last decade.
Started by Flying Lotus, the Brainfeeder label has consistently showcased the left-field, experimental electronic artists that can’t be found on other labels. A collection of artists looking to dismantle any notion of genre before putting the pieces back together in their own unique way. From the deconstructed techno of Lapalux to the experimental jazzy, hip-hop of Daedelus to the left-field hip-hop of producer Tokimonsta, signings to the label include some of the most distinctive and idiosyncratic talents around. On Brainfeeder X the label, quite rightly, takes the opportunity to celebrate those talents over two extraordinary discs of music.
Disc one is a celebration of the labels “Greatest Hits”. It opens with Flylo’s former roommate, Teebs with “Why Like This” from his debut album, Ardour. It’s a smooth introduction as droning organ chords wrap themselves around the steady thud of beats. Followed by the Dilla-esque samples and languid flow of Jeremiah Jae on “$easons” and then the fragmented downtempo techno of British producer, Lapalux, who is represented twice on the album. On the first disc, “Without You” shows off the textured R&B that made his 2013 Nostalchic album such a groundbreaking album, full of wonky beats and gentle undulating synths.
Iglooghost arrives to crash the party is own unique way, effectively demonstrating how brilliantly diverse the Brainfeeder roster is. “Bug Thief” is is a colourful, psychedelic mix of anything and everything with sounds and noises clattering together at a head-spinning rate. It crackles with originality and madcap genius, two aspects that have come to define Brainfeeder over the years. Tokimonsta brings the album back down to earth with “Fallen Arches” from her Creature Dreams. Full of crisp, ringing percussion and nocturnal synths, it’s a reminder (as if one was needed) of why she is one of the most exciting left-field hip-hop producers around today.
After the emotionally heavy piano chords of Miguel Baptista Benedict’s “Phemy”, the man who started it all makes an appearance on the ambient “Group Tea” by Matthewdavid, a track that feels like immersing your head in a bucket of ice cold water. Thankfully, the compilation makes room for the phenomenal, dancefloor masterpiece “Masks” from Dutch DJ and producer Martyn. With a thumping beat and shocks of sounds that scrunch and wrinkle before being ironed out by classic Detroit house influenced grooves, it still sounds as fresh as it did in 2011.
That leaves Mr Oizo to pick up the baton and run with it on the genuinely unnerving “Ham”. Anchored by a thumping beat and an urgent, jolting synth line, it’s another eccentric highlight. From there things get a little more experimental with Daedelous on the jazz-infused, hip-hop-tinged “Order of the Golden Dawn” and Jameszoo mixing gravity-defying, ambient synths with squelchy P-funk. Soon followed by Taylor McFerrin’s “Place in My Heart” from his Early Riser album.
His mix of soulful Stax-esque grooves and drums are given a contemporary spin with Ryat’s dramatic, theatrical vocals elevating the whole thing to an almost transcendent level. By now, it would be challenging to characterize Brainfeeder artists with having a distinctive sound. However, there are numerous artists on their roster such as McFerrin, FlyLo himself, Thundercat and MONO/POLY who can broadly be distinguished by their futurist spin on jazz, funk, and soul, something for which the label has become renowned.
“Needs Deodorant” from MONO/POLY’s Manifestations EP drips with effortless old-skool funk cool while the first appearance from Thundercat is on probably his most well-known song, “Them Changes”. In the context of this compilation, it highlights how Thundercat’s success owes a great deal to the drive, ethos, and freedom afforded to him by Brainfeeder.
To conclude the greatest hit festivities, DJ Paypal appears with the fidgety, footwork meets techno of “Slim Track VIP” from his Sold Out album while Ross From Friends adds some characteristic lo-fi synths to Thundercat’s “Friend Zone”. Finally, Brendan Coleman’s “Walk Free” is given a Flying Lotus makeover, full of spacious chords and woozy futurist, jazz melodies.
While the first disc acts as a superb summation of where the label came from and why it has thrived throughout the last decade, the second points to the future, featuring various new and unreleased gems.
Fittingly, Thundercat opens the disc with help from BADBADNOTGOOD and Flying Lotus who turn in a stunning track that plays like a lost soundtrack to an avant-garde cop drama. On “Opilio” Lapalux marries the sonic ruptures of last album Ruinism with his more tranquil side as ethereal vocals drift through the void pursued by bubbling synths and dense, heavy beats.
The driving rhythms and lo-fi synths of “Squaz” from one of electronic music recent breakout stars, Ross From Friends, shows just why is held in such high esteem. The same can be said of Iglooghost whose “Yellow Gum” packs more in two and a half minutes than many artists do on an entire album.
On “The Lavishments of Light Looking” leftfield hip-hop artist WOKE leaves a little room for the godfather of P-funk George Clinton to make an appearance as if adding his blessing to Brainfeeder itself. The lone Flying Lotus track “Ain’t No Coming Back” sees Busdriver channel his inner Gil Scott Heron on a furious, jazz lament to the state of modern society. “Delusions” by Little Snake, who made his Brainfeeder debut this year, is a thumping, fractured techno freakout with jagged sounds clashing together like a sonic frag grenade. It points to an artist who is well on his way to becoming another of Brainfeeder’s big success stories.
As the whole compilation ends with the bleak, murky ambience of Locust Toybox, you are reminded what a wonderfully eclectic label Brainfeeder has become. It’s feels like a refuge for those artists that need a place to hone their skills and take risks. Brainfeeder X is an important collection for those who are new to the label’s output and for those who want to revel in its glories. A worthy celebration of a genuinely groundbreaking label.