Music

The Herbaliser: Something Wicked This Way Comes

J. Victoria Sanders

The Herbaliser

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2002-03-19
Amazon
iTunes

Not a lot of hip-hop will make you want to rock bell bottoms or bust out an afro pick. But something about the intricate grooves of The Herbaliser is reminiscent of the old days when Shaft was the man and Pam Grier was an ass-kickin' ghetto heroine.

The London-based crew of nine musicians has worked with the likes of Roots Manuva and the lyrical empress Bahamadia for more than a decade, ekeing out funk-fused music that blends the worlds of acid jazz, hip-hop and '70s-style funk. The Herbaliser, which is a derivative of Swiss jazz composer Peter Herbolzeimer's last name, is also an obvious reference to marijuana -- which could be cliché, if their music didn't induce the same kind of euphoria Mary Jane is said, (ahem), to have.

Although the crew has had a few well-received singles in London, they are pretty obscure to American audiences, which probably has a lot to do with the American hip-hop connoisseur's finicky palate for mainstream "shake your booty" type rap fodder. But a listen to the Herbaliser could be an antidote for that. Contrary to their contemporaries in the UK, the Herbaliser is heavily influenced by American jazz and funk -- and those influences infuse the tracks on their fourth release, Something Wicked This Way Comes with a freshness that hip-hop needs desperately. With the lead bass player, Jake Wherry, leading the tribe with his cohort, Ollie Teeba, the DJ, snippets of David Axelrod and the influence of James Brown on their music is evident, but even the sample-driven music isn't boring. Samples are almost a given in hip-hop these days, anyway (thanks, P.Diddy). But it's not the samples themselves that are extraordinary on the Herbaliser's fourth effort. It's the way they're blended and supported by horns and turntables that makes it just plain good music.

The interesting thing about Something Wicked This Way Comesis that it's an even split between instrumentals and rap tracks. The deft scratching combined with the eccentric choice of emcees like Blade and MF Doom creates musical versatility rarely found in hip-hop these days. Vocalist Seaming To offers a buttery drone on the title track, which flows evenly into "Verbal Anime", featuring Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples. Phi Life Cypher, from the Gorillaz also breaks the sometimes repetitive tracks on the LP with a few fluid verses on "Distinguished Jamaican English". Each emcee pulls the pieces of the album together like the fine threads of a patchwork quilt and helps to move the music beyond some of it's more repetitive moments.

The first single from the album, "Good Girl Gone Bad" features Wildflower, an angry-sounding female MC with a porcelain-delicate voice. Her English accent adds a little more flavor to the album, even if her delivery sounds like a rushed freestyle. Then the album wanders off into a completely different sound with "The Turnaround" which sounds go-go inspired and straight from the days of polyester and platform shoes.

Enmeshed in acid jazz and layers of hip-hop beats over an orchestra, the Herbaliser's funk grooves complement nicely executed scratching in a way that inspires rap fans waiting for the return of creativity to hip-hop music. Perhaps the most song on Something Wicked is the last track, "Unsungsong" -- a simple, but fluid track with vibrant horns and an adamant, gospel-inspired beat. It's the kind of instrumental Donny Hathaway would have turned into a classic if he were still blessing us with that incredible voice.

Overall, Something Wicked This Way Comes is an understatement. Grab the Afro Sheen and the psychedelic prints and get ready to groove.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Film

'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.

Music

'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!"

Music

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.

Music

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".

Music

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".

Music

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".

Music

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".

Film

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 .

Music

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.

Music

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.

Music

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".

Music

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
Music

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.

Books

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

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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