The last few years have seen a marked change in the beat making scene. In days gone by artists relied on collaborations with MCs to get their music noticed. However, recently there has been a growth of a scene which places the beat makers and producers at the fore. This hip-hop evolution has thrown up some prodigious talent and LA-based Stones Throw Records has become something of a a stable for beats artists. It’s clear that this nurturing environment has enabled beats makers to produce some of instrumental hip-hop’s finest work. Now it’s the turn of LA beat maker/producer Mndsgn to stamp his mark on the genre.
Mndsgn’s first full length album Yawn Zen was the result of him following label mate and former Klipmode band mate Knxwledge’s advice to give up his sales job and concentrate on the more important matter of making beats. This new found focus and commitment to his craft was plain to see on Yawn Zen. It was something of a hazy, sun drenched minor masterpiece that demonstrated Mndsgn’s ability to mine the past to soundtrack the future. Since that album, Mndsgn has clearly been squirreling away beats and sounds. Stockpiling hooks and melodies and diligently learning more about the influences that influenced the artists he loves. He has pushed himself to really understand the methodology behind music and opened his mind to see where those discoveries might take him. The result is this cosmic space opera: Body Wash.
The album loosely follows a singular narrative dreamed up by Mndsgn. A extraterrestrial drifter lands on Earth where he meets a mysterious woman with telepathic abilities. She offers him shelter for the night and cleanses him in a psychedelic “body wash”. He is then transported to another planet where he tries to locate this mysterious woman. Eventually, he realizes that they are in fact together and both come from the same place. If all that sounds like one hell of a mind bending trip, then it is really. However, the narrative is inconsequential to the music itself. It is just as easy to enjoy the music for what it is; a polychromatic and warm celestial trip through the stars.
The album itself is a throwback to the sounds of the ’80s. Mndsgn has distilled the soul funk from the early part of the decade and skimmed off the best bits. First single “Cosmic Perspective” sets the template for the rest of the album. Similar to the rest of the album he eschews traditional hip-hop beats for more woozy soul and funk sounds all laced with a healthy dose of psychedelia. Stevie Wonder style ’70s synths bubble to the surface while spacey funk grooves guide you along the astral path. It jumps between styles and genres displaying a huge range of influences. In a way it is a bit like a Jackson Pollock painting in that it may seem haphazard but is actually meticulously and painstakingly thought out.
Mndsgn is working from a clear sonic template but blends subtle embellishments to elevate the songs. “Alluptoyou” adds some slap bass to the customary woozy, hypnotic synths. “Ya Own Way” establishes itself with a classic ’80s funk riff before giving way to more cosmic synths. Both songs are built on funky bass lines that owe more than a little to the pioneering rhythm sections of Parliament or Earth, Wind and Fire. “Vague Recalibrate” sees his dreamy vocals enrich the mind-bending psychedelic swirl with a plea for a need to seek some deeper enlightenment. Mndsgn also supplements his carefully constructed beats with live instrumentation that leap out like lights through the fog. “Use Your Mind” adds a classic Jazz piano interlude while “Guess It’s All Over” sees his Austrian girlfriend weave in some stunning viola playing. In effect this makes the music more relatable rather than unapproachably enigmatic.
The album isn’t without it’s issues. It’s commendable of him to back himself so comprehensively on vocals. However, his dreamy, celestial vocals can result in slightly amorphous songs that at times bleed into each one another. There’s an argument that a change of vocals, singing style or even a guest verse would offer a welcome change of pace. Additionally, the trippy, singular pace nature of the album can mean it feels a bit too long. Nonetheless, after repeat listens the subtle flourishes and attention to detail shine through leaving the listener with an album that begs to be listened to as a cohesive whole.
Now the elephant in room. The obvious question. Do you have to be stoned to enjoy this album? Well, no. From the freaky narrative to the spaced out beats, the album is plainly aimed at opening the doors of perception. However, there is just as much to enjoy for the non-toker. Sure Mndsgn is open about his penchant for getting baked and it has inevitably carried over into his music but this album is just as enjoyable on a sunny day or late at night. It’s an album that opens up the more you listen to it offering a Kaleidoscope of sounds that will maintain your interest independent of your level of intoxication. It’s a cosmic soul fruit punch topped up with extra funk that will leave your head spinning long after you’ve come back down to earth.