For all of us beat junkies across the land, the last few years have seen a shift in our culture. What originally stemmed from HipHop and its culture is now a vast and varied family of musical species. And while there may be many styles, I have chosen to group them under an umbrella genre of ‘Beats’, because in my heart, they are all really HipHop in some way, shape or form. The once mighty urban culture has now spread, in its popularity, through and across almost every cultural, racial and class distinction. Suburban teenage boys are no longer the ‘outside’ listeners looking in. Hell, even some suburban moms are nodding their heads to an expanse of sounds from the Beat culture. And 2010 was a fantastic year, as the genre and its many styles exploded past previous constraints, while also giving due props to their ancestors in Jazz and HipHop. So, without further a-blabber, lets meet some of our candidates for Best Beats Album of 2010.
Los Angeles reclaimed the throne they had seemingly indeterminately lost to the East Coast back in the old HipHop Coast Wars of the 80’s & 90’s. Who better to lead the charge than Flying Lotus? After a couple of fantastic albums of Wonky HipHop in 1983 & Los Angeles, FlyLo caved in many a head with Cosmogramma. At once feeling like the future of Funk & HipHop and also resurrecting the nearly expired Afro-Futurism of the late 60’s & early 70’s Jazz explorers such as Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra. The timing of this album’s release couldn’t have been more well thought out. Arriving on the scene in early May, the album was born infused with the season’s hopefulness, warmth and golden tones. As the days expanded in length, so did the astral plane of FlyLo’s beat architecture. The driving and irresistible beat of “Nose Art” awoke you from your winter slumber and rocked you into movement. From the rotating spectral strings of “Zodiac Shit” to the dancefloor-mashing excitement of “Do The Astral Plane” you would have to be dead not to feel the compulsion to move to this record.
Speaking of moving? Move the fuck out the way for Comfort Fit!! Sure Boris Mezga has been making records for a few years now (I just discovered him this year…damn good stuff), but his chunky little Private Primate EP hit the scene with a menacing thud. Comfortable with making R&B-infused beats for years, Mezga steps it up about ten notches with this record. The mood is much darker. The beats are heavier, yet mixed with such skill as to retain a clarity not everybody can achieve in the big beat model. And he has also introduced a very un-cheeky Dub element to his music on Private Primate. It’s danceable, but also suitable to soundtrack a street fight with. Turn this up loud!!! As for the fact that Comfort Fit was a new discovery for me this year? I’d like to say that no matter how the Award Committee of Rockridge Beat Junkies votes on this category for Best Album, Comfort Fit certainly gets the nod for Finest Discovery of an Artist. An award no one should be ashamed to display on their kitchen counter.
Back to the LA scene with Deru (my man!!) and his third full length release, Say Goodbye To Useless. When I first heard this tasty platter, I thought to myself, “I think Ben has tapped into a vein of the future of HipHop!” The beats are undeniably HipHop, polishing the BoomBap aesthetic to a high, thumping shine. Also of note, he has taken his sound, quite singular in its style actually, and gone darker and more romantic. It feels more emotionally possessed by its composer; more mature in its structure. There is a transitional moment late in “I Want” that is simply to die for and quite possibly inexplicable in words; just a slight pause and then the beat kicks in with an even more concentrated melodic structure. Bliss!
And from bliss to menacing joy, a man from almost nowhere in the Midwest dropped one of the year’s most crushing debuts on FlyLo’s Brainfeeder label. Who is this man of mystery and shadow? Lorn. Lorn’s album Nothing Else gracefully, yet frighteningly, transcended the electronic side of HipHop into a heavenly place where we no longer have to cringe at its mechanical ways, void of emotional hues and lacking the fluidity we often associate with the genre. He’s even able to make some of those corn-ball synthesizer string patches sound good. That’s skill. There is some seriously dark shit going on on this record. I love it!! Even though he’s from the Midwest, Lorn helped to beef up the LA scene’s resume in 2010.
Just like Teebs did! Ardour, the first full length album by LA’s Teebs (known to his parents as Mtendere Mandowa). This is a much mellower affair than the likes of Lorn. Teebs seems to like to take a loop and toy with it for the duration of a song, sometimes burying it under layers of manipulation, but always allowing it to set the tone of the song. It’s a nice middle ground; it has balls, but isn’t bursting with the malodorous musical bravado held over from LA’s Gangsta Rap scene. On the other hand, Teebs isn’t so light that he utilizes too many Elevator Jazz samples either. A nice relaxing album of beats.
In place of the Coast Wars of HipHop from the previous two decades, it seems much of the competition for Los Angeles is coming from the UK. Hailing from the sprawling metropolis of London, Lukid has been delighting beat junkie ears for a few years now. His third LP, Chord, marks a departure from the Dub and HipHop stylings of his first two records. Chord sees Lukid move into a more Trance-focused HipHop. Many of the beats are 4/4 House bangers. Yet the overall aesthetic remains Lukid’s and is quite palatable. The melodic and harmonic structures are a bit more complex than his previous offerings. One funny thing is how the vinyl includes 3 tracks from the first two LPs. Nice to have ’em on wax, but it seems to divide up the proper album in an odd way.
Klouds by Knxwledge is a quizzical album. I find the production to be top notch and the choppy, off-kilter style isn’t a deficiency the way it can be for other producers. Yet, I often find myself trying to listen to this album and not being in the right mood. Then, randomly, a track will play on the iPod in my car and I’ll be totally rapt by its funkiness. On the first few songs there’s a bit of a carousel feel to it that I often wanna skip past, but trust me that sticking with this record will be rewarding, specially on the second half (starting with the 70’s Soul sampled “Remember Who You Are”).
Back to Los Angeles, again, I’d be a fool not to mention Free The Robots. Ctrl Alt Delete is one hell of a chunky record, put out by the Alpha Pup label. You may remember them from such releases as Nosaj Thing’s Drift and Paris Zax’s Unpath’d Waters. A ton of heavy bass kicks and click-clack snare and handclap interplay drenched in Theremin sounds, synthesizer tides and a mysterious musical DNA connection to EL-P. Trust me, when you listen to this album, you’ll hear the similarity too, with the combination of digital sounds and analog samples that sound right out of the mind of the exalted EL-Producto. “Select Start” is my jam on this record. With its 8-bit video game soundtrack samples and super dope low end rhythms, how can you not love this track?!?
This time sticking in LA for a minute, one of the year’s best compilations has to be Proximity One: Narrative of a City. The range of artists and styles is impressive on this one. From the Electro-Funk-Pop silliness of Dam Funk to the chopped nastiness of Sahy Uhns and the surprisingly Dub-bubbly offerings of Daedelus. Great for a short, day-long road trip soundtrack.
Alright. Before we get to this year’s winner, as decided upon by the Award Committee, I just want to take a moment to quickly mention some other decent offerings from the last 12 months in Beats. 1000Names gave us some slightly tribal HipHop with Illuminated Man. Tokimonsta showed that girls can play this game too with Midnight Menu. Pavel Dovgal put Vladivostok on the Beat map with Cassiopeia. Mesak’s School of Mesak broke through the kitchy vibe of Skwee. Kelpe dropped a tasty single, Chocolate Money, reminiscent of a cross between Cepia and DJ Shadow. And Blue Daisy continues to delight us with short release after short release, the latest being the Raindrops EP. Now, would you please hand me the envelope?
I knew it! The award goes to Paul White Paul White & the Purple Brain. I have had a few discussions about this record with my best friend and trusted co-conspirator in all things music listening and finally came to the realization that we both loved this record compared to our initially tepid responses when it first came out. In fact, it was just last night that I inquired if he thought that Paul White was kind of like Britain’s answer to Madlib. He said, “Yes…trying to be.” No, Paul White doesn’t put out as many full length releases as the uber-prolific Madlib does, but he consistently puts out fantastic instrumental HipHop and Beat adventures. In addition to my assessment in last year’s article of the same nature, White has now added an element of Psychedelia and even Prog-Rock into his already kaleidoscopic beat machine. “Dance Scene” throbs with a guttural bass and pulses with the looped calls of sitars in heat, while little splashes of tablas sputter in and out. What a Beat delight! And then on “Body Spirals Pt. II”, the echo chamber takes over and spins you out of your Dubbing mind, but it doesn’t pop right out at you. The beat is headstrong and stays the course, but these little echo-machinations of Dub angels come flowing in and out and make you start to question your sanity. At 25 tracks in all, this album still only barely cracks 37 minutes. This makes for easily repeated plays on any given day, except maybe when I’m at work (so customers can play “Sympathy For the Devil” 8 times a night on the jukebox, but I can’t play this album twice??? What the fuck?!). One thing I really appreciate about the album as a whole is how it sounds like just a collection of like-minded tunes, but grows to reveal a more narrative arc structure. I can’t necessarily identify some simple definition of that narrative arc, but I can feel it pulsing through all the beats, manipulations and fuzzed out guitar samples. White does an exquisite job of making the choppy smooth and the polished chunky. A nifty little paradox! Congrats to Mr. White. And don’t forget to check out the extra 12″ single that comes with the album. The track with Guilty Simpson is divine. Furthermore, White put out a delicious little 7″ where he remixes Velvet Underground and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Cool shit!