Straight outta Comp--er, Copenhagen? Danish hip-hoppers bring the heat.
My first exposure to Melk was via a press release. "Danish hip-hop?," I said.
"I didn't know they had hip-hop in Denmark."
Confessions of ignorance aside, I must admit that what truly snared my interest were the largely printed comparisons to Prefuse 73, one of the bigger names in the independent hip-hop scene of, um, right now. Given that Prefuse 73 has spent the last few years producing some of the most interesting music to get lumped into the hip-hop genre, any comparisons to Mr. Herren should be enough to pique the interest of anyone looking for a good beat. So I was hooked.
Melk is made up of two producers, Rasmus Møbius and Anders Christophersen. Now, do you think two hip-hop producers can possibly put together an album without bringing along some of their friends for the ride? Of course not! As it turns out, there's an entire hip-hop scene in Denmark, and a number of the luminaries of said scene are along for the Melk ride. The result is an album called Sports that sounds not so much like Prefuse 73 as it does Massive Attack's Blue Lines-era experiments in dub/reggae stylings, complete with guest vocalists who may as well be impersonators of some of the most distinct voices the Attack has employed through the years.
Møbius and Christophersen's production style is distinctly theirs, however, and honestly unlike anything I've heard before, despite the constraints of its allegiance to dub. The beats are relatively straightforward, uniformly mid-tempo and rather generic, but it's the sounds on top of the beats that make a Melk song distinctively Melk. Møbius and Christophersen generate a synth sound that seems to employ something of a strip-away technique, where it sounds as if there was once more synth noise, but that noise has been largely stripped away, turning what's left into brief blasts of melodic staccato. The result is a synth sound that sounds less like someone playing an instrument, and more like the aural equivalent of the carefully placed rays of sun on the rather beautiful album cover.
Sports opens on a wonderfully mellow note, as an exquisite muted trumpet courtesy of one Nikolaj Høi graces the amusingly titled "Lego Love". "Lego Love" leads directly into the most aggressive track on the entire disc, "Game Over", which features Context of Nobody Beats the Beats. What's most interesting about "Game Over" is hearing a politically charged rap from someone who's not actually American or British -- it's easy to casually listen to this song and think it's yet another indictment of the U.S. involvement in Iraq, and in a way it is. The approach, however, is one of chastizing Denmark's government for supporting the American involvement. "So in retrospect, what they done for us? / If we said no, they would probably hold a gun at us / And we can't afford to live without the U.S. millions / We'd rather disregard our feelings when they're killing civilians" is the key quatrain, expressing simultaneous disdain for the U.S. bully and the local punching bag.
The rest of the album never approaches such flammable subject matter, choosing instead to concentrate on summery feel-good chill tracks. A rapper named Gisli shows up to talk over a couple of beats, but his raps are forgettable, and truth be told, a bit lame. Tue Track proves that his scratching mettle holds up to any one of his more famous turntabling brethren on the standout "Hummel". Then, of course, there is the lovely Ane Trolle, who contributes vocals on two tracks as a Nicolette (most famous for her vocals on Massive Attack's Protection) impersonator, and Tuco, doing his best Horace Andy impression on the dubbiest track on the disc, which goes by the ironic name of "Like Rock 'n Roll". Those similarities may jar the first-time listener, but in the end, both voices are pleasant complements for the music behind them, on songs that would sound woefully incomplete without them.
Melk hasn't done anything extraordinary with Sports. What they have done is put together a tight, concise slice of dub-hop that's perfect for a seriously hot day when the air conditioning's broken. This is one of those discs that simply sounds like Summer -- not the partying outdoor nightlife of Summer, but the hot, hazy days, the ones where you can literally see the heat wafting off the pavement. Who knew a Scandinavian country could pack this kind of heat?