Oh No: Dr. No's Oxperiment

On this instrumental opus, Oh No breezes his way through tracks of Middle Eastern chants and rich sitars.

Oh No

Dr. No's Oxperiment

Label: Stones Throw Records
US Release Date: 2007-07-31
UK Release Date: 2007-07-30

Oh No, who is part of a lineage of successful musicians, may have genetically inherited his composition skills. His father is Otis Jackson, a deep baritone known for crooning over funk-inspired schmaltz tracks. His uncle is Jon Faddis, the world-renowned trumpeter who has become legendary in the jazz world. His most similar musical relative is his brother Otis Jackson Jr. (otherwise known as Madlib), the famed Stones Throw beat conductor who churns out so many albums that a listener cannot wholly absorb one of his records before the next is released. And while Oh No possesses this genetic tie to so many talented musicians, he shares the same name as the King of Pop (Michael Jackson), sealing the fact that it may not be coincidental that he ended up a beat coddler and emcee.

But Oh No has valiantly outgrown the shadow of his relatives. He released his debut The Disrupt in 2004, and though there may have been some apprehensive Stones Throw fanatics weary of a release from Madlib’s brother, Oh No impressed with his thumping opus complete with loads of buzzing samples and quick-witted rhymes. After holding his own on that album, he followed with the concept record Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms, a shiny effort on which he culled beats out of Galt MacDermot samples. Instead of rapping, he hung up the microphone and enlisted some assistance from a gamut of talented contemporaries.

Like his brother, Oh No dabbles in heaps of different genres, switching up his style and experimenting on new sounds with each release. Dr. No’s Oxperiment, his third solo record, is a complete deviation from his electronic-based debut and glittery sophomore effort. This album is crafted out of crate-dug Lebanese, Turkish and Indian samples, and instead of getting as much mileage as he can out of a gorgeous snippet of music, Oh No keeps each of the 28 tracks brief, with no single song lasting more than two minutes. The album is a journey into the exotic and filled to capacity with sharp ideas. While each individual clip pulls the listener from one area of musical experimentation to another, the effort beautifully coalesces into a full-bodied and rich work of intellectual composition.

Although the album should be listened to in its entirety and regarded as a blended body of work, one must recognize that there are distinctive parts that make up the whole. Each track embodies a different cultural sound and location, including everything from Indian chants to atonal piano bangs and set to thick grooves and vibrant bass lines. The record begins with a Middle Eastern woman who chants on “Heavy,” which quickly dissolves into a rhythm built on a psychedelic guitar, limber hi-hats and a chunky kick. The beat is versatile, breaking down and then launching back into its original groove, flowing along with an uneven limp that perseveres in spite of its clumsiness.

The record also features some other tracks that bump in the same Middle Eastern vein. “Emergency” is a tight piece that sounds comfortable with its crisp sitar sample and electronic burps. Before the track plays itself out, it melds into “Ohhhhhhh,” which is more tranquil with its simple kick-snare interplay but maintains the same sort of exoticism as its predecessor with its panned choral croons. “Action” has a similar potency, with a reed instrument slithering across heavy bongos and a vocal sample set to a lighthearted string section.

Oh No pins down the Turkish and Lebanese sound on many of the record’s tracks, but he reaches out to more psychedelic and erratic instruments on the majority of Dr. No’s Oxperiment. “Cassette” begins with a clip of a man who is advertising the benefits of cassette tapes, but the song soon snaps into a soul-dipped instrumental complete with horns and a jazz guitar that trade off control of the melody. “No Guest List” is a straightforward gem that pops with its hard-hitting snares, light acoustic guitar strums and a wispy flute, while “Mad Piano” is probably the most bizarre clip on the record, featuring blinding electronic drones laced with snips of flute trills and spacey bangs on a keyboard.

Despite being a rich a well-rounded record, it lacks any sort of ending or closure, making the whole piece seem, like it is in itself, a smaller piece of a larger work. The last song, “Slow Down,” is mid-tempo and flows at a distance, as if it is playing underwater. The track is a little over a minute, but cuts off without any sort of farewell or even a musical fadeout. It ends as abruptly as it began, leaving the listener unfulfilled after the rest of the record conveyed such magnanimous cohesion and musical integrity.

But by this point, Oh No has already proved that he is in the upper crust of producers in the world of underground hip-hop. He is easily able to maneuver his way through crates of foreign rhythms and put them in a completely new context. While Madlib may throw a record together that has a single musical theme and little variation, Oh No shows that he can expand beyond a simple concept and reinterpret a bevy of genres to stand as something entirely new. With a track record that shows that Oh No is getting much more dexterous as time goes on, his future albums will surely become even more focused, and if they are as versatile and cerebral as Dr. No’s Oxperiment, he may just prove to be the best Jackson in the bunch.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.