Detroit DJ Todd Osborn's first full-length album is as smart as it is physical, a distillation of old-style '80s house, chilled, synth-filtered soul, breakbeats, and African percussion.
“It’s all outlined in my head,” says DJ Todd Osborn (the "e" is only in his stage name), as “Our Definition of a Breakbeat”, his process-unveiling collaboration with Ed DMX, gets into gear. “As long as I don’t have an aneurysm, this song is going off without a hitch,” he adds, then repeats, until it briefly becomes part of the song. It’s an unlikely vocal hook, even juxtaposed against insistent handclaps, synthetic bass, and shouts. Still, it gets at the weird mix of physical and mental energy in Osborne, a wholly enjoyable though somewhat discontinuous trip through house styles of the 1980s.
Osborn is a Detroit-area electronic artist who also records under the name Soundmurderer. This is his first full-length, following the Ruling EP, which contains identical versions of four of these songs, and a handful of singles. He originally meant to call the record Multitasking, a reference not just to the album’s one-guy-with-a-computer work ethic, but also the multiplicity of ideas shoe-horned between its covers. You could hardly find a more soul-slick, synthesized groove than “Ruling” or a spikier, drum-heavier percussive rant than “Afrika”. It’s hard to believe they come from the same guy.
Cuts range from the introspective and dreamy -- “Downtown” is a good example -- to the all-out celebratory, but the best balance intricately cerebral complexity with body-moving joy. “Outta Sight”, for example, layers syncopated rhythms of keyboard, malleted percussion, and drum sounds like a kaleidoscope, the tones shifting and overlapping in bright, constantly changing patterns. Yet over this crossword complexity, the sampled vocals are pure physical release, a woman’s voice splintered and fractured into hip-shifting patterns. This song works pretty well on headphones, but you could see it filling a dark club up as well. Similarly, “Afrika” is interesting for its dense interplay of non-Western rhythms. (“Air Pistol” also borrows third world cadences -- this time from the Caribbean.) Still, interesting is not the point. The piece is so physically engaging that you can hardly sit still and listen to it.
Osborne doesn’t flow especially smoothly from track to track, but that just gives you more to think about. And “Our Definition of a Breakbeat”, just two guys hanging out making a beat, shows you a little bit about how it’s done: a little planning, a big, body-moving rhythm, loose, goofy interplay between the guys and their computers… and it’s finished. “Are we recording?” asks Osborn at one point, about halfway through the cut. Sure are. Lucky for us.