MADLIB THE BEAT KONDUCTA
Vol. 1–2: Movie Scenes
Issued under the guise Beat Konducta (one of many pseudonyms used by California hiphop producer Madlib), Vol. 1–2: Movie Scenes first appeared last year in two volumes as a vinyl-only release. Ironically, it's being issued as a CD two months after the late Jay Dee's instrumental album, Donuts, hit stores. Movie Scenes is an accurate description: There are 35 instrumental songs that run between one and three minutes (most of Madlib's songs, whether cinematic or not, are pretty short), are randomly sequenced, and aren't intended for any movie hitting a theater near you, but they could be a soundtrack for a film in your mind.
Sonically, Movie Scenes finds Madlib experimenting with new production styles, from chopping up different segments of the same record, and then imaginatively rearranging the parts ("The Rock," "Outerlimit"); to creating long, looped tapestries of flavorful samples (the psychedelic "Left on Silverlake," which is reminiscent of frequent Alfred Hitchcock soundtracker Bernard Herrmann). Jay Dee's influence is keenly felt on a few of the tracks, particularly the dark and sinuous "Offbeat."
Overall, Movie Scenes is uniformly excellent, even if Madlib leaves few clues to allow listeners to apprehend a strong impression of what it's all supposed to mean. All that ties them together are multiple vocal snippets such as one of Method Man snarling, "I wasn't really feeling my shit, but all of a sudden I was feeling my shit." MOSI REEVES
It's stunning the sheer volume of youngish bands in recent years who have cited the primary influence of late-'70s/early-'80s New York experimentalists like DNA and Glenn Branca. Even more dramatic is how little reflection of those older artists' originality and inventiveness is evident in most of these bands' tinny/yawny dance-punk concoctions. The context of this shoddy reclamation of the no-wave legacy makes Kratitude, the sophomore release from Brooklyn's the Seconds, all the more refreshing. While the Seconds also draw some of their genetic makeup from DNA (particularly present in the airplane-crash scrape of the guitars), they seem to have devoured and digested the scribbled model of Arto Lindsay & Co. in a way far more genuine and full than most of their contemporaries. Deeply embedded with the notion of transcendental repetition, their minimal, guitar-and-drum-based squall feels both artistically self-motivated and appealingly foreign. Vocal motifs are repeated until they attain the role of total phonetic static, while the gleefully dissonant guitars manage to sound at once aggressively debased and strangely dramatic. The disc's most sharpened songs, like "Dogsickle," can sound like Melt Banana stripped of all science or architectural sense. Much of Kratitude is music of the type that could be easily discounted as conceptually childish or lazy in construction, but ultimately the Seconds triumph in fully embracing these elements of their music (even going so far as to draw their album's title and artwork from a 10-year-old) and producing work that comes off as borderline mentally disabled in the most thrilling and wonderful way. SAM MICKENS
THE DFA REMIXES
Skeptics waiting for the DFA—Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy—to run out their 15 minutes of fame should pocket their stopwatches and pick new targets. Judging from this anthology, which collects nine remixes by the hot-shit NYC DJ/production duo, DFA have successfully dodged too-close affiliation with short-lived trends while still forging a recognizable stamp.
Even when working with cuts that have long since passed their sell-by dates—Le Tigre's "Deceptacon," Fischerspooner's "Emerge"—the DFA incarnations remain disarmingly fresh and playful; they offset the strident vocals of the former by upping the tune's disco-funk quotient (does anybody else hear Loose Joints' "Is It All over My Face?" in there?), while the latter adds much needed texture, via chunks of stuttering vocals, to the slick original.
The boys exhibit healthy respect for their source material, preserving basic song structures and sufficient vocals, but after that, all bets are off—and the more room they have to stretch out and experiment, the better; the midsection of their epic redux of Gorillaz's "Dare" is so rife with dizzying, panned sound FX, it feels like the first phase of an alien abduction. Elsewhere, Blues Explosions' "Mars, Arizona" is strewn with broken piano, claptrap percussion, and muffled bass thumps—imagine Jon Spencer trapped in a padded cell, with the Flying Lizards' "Money" being played at top volume, over and over and over. The wait for Chapter Two (featuring NIN, Goldfrapp, and N.E.R.D., and due out this summer) just got a lot more agitated. KURT B. REIGHLEY
The Mind Is a Bird in the Hand
Tapping into the pastoral, mystic vein of Six Organs of Admittance and Incredible String Band, Plants create a warm haze of acoustic-based psychedelia. Employing acoustic thumb plucks and light embellishment of organs, flutes, and bells, these Portlanders are a woods-folk affair on par with any of the same recently lilting out of the Bay Area. Though the cover art would suggest Plants members Josh Blanchard and Molly Griffith were given to rollicking through nature and wearing flowers in their hair (and perhaps they do), the music is a bit darker, heavy on the minor keys and vocal tribalism. The title track is six minutes of buzzing sitar bliss, and opener "Acorn Child" approaches the eerie druidisms of Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice. Most of the tracks tend to spiral off into ambient, drone-y tangents, yet the core remains grounded and rhythmic. Song titles such as "The Coming Storm Has Passed" and "Wolves and Hooves" hint at this pair eventually setting up communal living on rural acreage à la Little Wings, and the album closer, "Invisible Islands," with its stoned harmonies and lyrics of ancient towers, does little to belie such a theory. However, those still wary of too much hippie in their folk diet need not fear, for like all the best of the new crop, Plants play it weird. BRIAN J. BARR
When a group only releases four albums in 15 years what's another year till new material? Maybe that's the thought going through the collective head of Massive Attack—the Bristol-founded sound system turned production hub for Robert "3D" del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall, and, initially, Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles, plus numerous contextualized collaborators including Tricky, Nicolette, Tracey Thorn, and Horace Andy. Massive Attack's best of, Collected, features the previously unreleased song "Live with Me," featuring Terry Callier's silky vocals; however, the track offers nothing truly new. With string-swept, heavily compressed cinematics, this "new single" merely stamps a trademark symbol on disc one's end, summarizing where Massive Attack have been while working on where they're going.
Massive Attack's fifth album, Weather Underground, is slated for early 2007. And if "Live with Me" is to be believed, del Naja and Marshall are revisiting the humidity of tracks on Collected such as "Safe from Harm," "Unfinished Sympathy" (both featuring Shara Nelson), and "Five Man Army" (all originally on 1991's debut Blue Lines). These early weathered loops were a coagulant of soulful dub suspended in murky hiphop (once lamentably called "triphop"). Smoky purrs and mournful pleas further burrowed through the earthy headiness of 1994's "Protection," "Karmacoma," and "Sly" (all, well, Collected). Massive Attack also navigated a 1998 phase of swampy paranoia, collecting tracks such as "Angel," "Inertia Creeps," and "Risingson" that are imbued with the caustic, claustrophobic apprehension of not knowing, but knowing where to find, what you're afraid to know is true.
Three tracks from 2003's 100th Window are also featured on Collected, revealing more pixilated cascades from Massive Attack's estranged years. And a second DualDisc compiles rarities, reworkings, and promo clips—such as collaborations with Elizabeth Fraser—allowing further bleary shapes to form ecclesiastic processionals from the ether. Even if not good at timely, Massive Attack's signature sounds on Collected prove to draw deeply from timeless. TONY WARE
Bassist William Parker plays elliptical free-form compositions instead of standards, a decision he once explained by saying "jazz is less than 100 years old, too young to repeat itself." Parker's latest collaborator, Beans, applies similar logic to hiphop, a genre in which artists regularly plagiarize from just three decades of recorded history. But even from a rapper known for obtuse, offbeat flows and futuristic electronic beats, Only feels unusually daring. Lyricists have jammed with jazz musicians on projects such as Guru's Jazzmatazz and A Tribe Called Quest's Ron Carter–abetted The Low End Theory, but those records used organic bass lines as foundation grooves for linear tunes. Only lets Parker and drummer Hamid Drake expand Beans' compositional ideas without time restraints (some songs stretch past the nine-minute mark) or tangible melodic patterns.
Drake's skittering, polyrhythmic percussion and Parker's portentous rumbles undulate erratically, while layered psychedelic washes preserve an ambient atmosphere. The most accessible passages recall Sly & Robbie's deep dub riddims ("Only 1"), an exponentially evolved version of the Neptunes' minimalist clicks and whirrs ("Only 5"), or Autechre's robotic faucet drip ("Only 118").
Lyrically, Beans doesn't let the presence of legends shame him into self-censoring reverence. Within 10 seconds of his first appearance, he mentions "chasing pussy." His battle-rap boasts about being "the architect of your annihilation" seem as arbitrary as his frequent non sequiturs in this context, because there's no opponent willing to test him in this territory. The album title Only concisely summarizes the singular nature of Beans' pursuit. ANDREW MILLER