PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Greyboy: Soul Mosaic

Tim O'Neil


Soul Mosaic

Label: Ubiquity
US Release Date: 2004-04-06
UK Release Date: 2004-04-05

It's hard not to admire Ubiquity. You would be hard pressed to find another label so steadfastly dedicated to the simple notion of taste, or more devoted to the unifying principle that quality music produced for and by knowledgeable afficionados can survive and thrive in a crowded marketplace. There are few labels who can compete with Ubiquity in terms of the sheer quality of the vast majority of their releases. From the future jazz of Zero dB to Darkleaf's bracing hip-hop, and from the intricate Detroit-tinged IDM of Kirk DeGiorgio to James Combs' well-crafted acoustic pop, Ubiquity remains one of the premier independent labels currently extant.

However, the concept of tasteful musicianship can be dangerous. There are any number of competent and capable musicians who craft undeniably boring music. There's something missing -- be it passion, originality or some indefinable spark of genius -- the want of which renders their music simultaneously studied and bland. As we consider Soul Mosaic the thought looms inescapably that Greyboy, for all his talent and descriminaiton, has become immensely boring.

Greyboy -- AKA Andreas Stephens -- has been Ubiquity's point man for 10 years. His debut, 1993's Freestylin', remains Ubiquity's's best-selling release and can also be considered a useful keystone for the label's ethos. Quietly confident, Freestylin' helped to define the concept of acid jazz, pulling inspiration from the worlds of hip-hop and house while simultaneously hewing to a refreshingly orthodox conception of pre-fusion jazz idiom. But acid jazz became very successful in the ensuing years, and the man called Greyboy chose to walk away from the genre's commercial excesses and dedicate himself to reforging his signature sound.

Soul Mosaic is a tribute, of sorts, to the funk and soul sounds of the early 1970s as seen through the prism of 1990s hip-hop. But it's a bloodless tribute, a funk album without any funk and a soul album without any soul. The music's surface attributes are accurately represented, but the motivating id is totally absent. In making an exhaustive study of the music that inspires him, Greyboy has succeeded in sapping the interest from his own music.

This problem is perfectly illustrated by the album's opening track, a cover of Cymande's 1973 classic "Genevieve", a track that also opened the Rewind 3 compilation. Whatever charms the original may have had are here totally unrepresented. Greyboy lays a fairly generic stuttering glitchy R&B undercarriage under a minuscule, emaciated bassline. Bart Davenport's cloying falsetto only reminds the listener of Al Green, who did pretty much the same thing only a lot better. The song just sounds naked, and not in an intense Cat Power way. It's almost as if Greyboy is afraid to let loose, to really enjoy himself -- because this track sounds about as fun as a Chemistry midterm.

The same problems crop up later on, during a cover of Stevie Wonder's "To Know You Is to Love You" (a track originally performed by Wonder's ex-wife Syreeta). While this song has a much better bassline than "Genevieve", there's still something remarkably bloodless at work here. There are small flourishes of funky guitar and Hammond organ, but there's nothing to quicken the pulse of even the most calcified funkster. Whereas the conscientious funk musician knows how to create tension by knowing what notes not to play, Greyboy seems simply reluctant to muddy his intricate programming. It's almost cynically calculated.

Sharon Jones contributes excellent vocals to one of the album's least affected tracks, "Got to Be a Love." This works because Jones' unmannered, raucous voice shines a brilliant light across Greyboy's production. Of the many funk pastiches which comprise the bulk of Soul Mosaic, this is the only one that sounds as if it might have a living, breathing soul deep under the studio sheen. There are a few bits of straight hip-hop, with the help of MC Mainflo and a few guest turntablists. He seems a lot more comfortable crafting hip-hop beats than patchwork soul tracks -- there's some life in the undercarriage of tracks like "Bronson" and "Gotta Stand for Something". He even tries his hand at DJ Shadow-ish sample collage on tracks like "Big Tito". There are a few good tracks peppered throughout, but the overall effect is damningly underwhelming. Usually a few good tracks can buoy my opinion of a mediocre album, but the cryogenically-frozen, utterly deracinated funk that dominates the album is overwhelmingly unpleasant.

There's no doubt in my mind that Greyboy is capable of much better than this. Ubiquity's one shining weakness is their propensity to cross the line between tasteful and tepid, and nowhere is this conflict better illustrated than on Soul Mosaic.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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