Fat Ross – Glockamole (hip-hop)
Strange Gibberish S/G072, 2011, DD album, 36m 50s
Glockamole is a great name for a comedy hip-hop record. There’s clearly a lot of wordplay left in ripping the piss out of hip-hop’s tropes and clichés, but I have to say there are probably not many jokes left in it. It’s a well worked mine, especially gangsta rap, bearing in mind that everything N.W.A. released after Straight Outta Compton was basically a joke. No, it takes more to make a funny hip-hop record than just pointing out how ludicrous hip-hop is, or being incongruously self-deprecating. It requires some comic creativity to raise a laugh in any medium, but luckily for me, I find Fat Ross pretty darn funny. His approach is basically about creating a ludicrous persona and inhabiting it with conviction for sixteen tracks of idiocy. The persona is an overweight, obnoxious, presumably single guy in a wrestling mask with a squeaky voice and a geeky set of interests; as such, his schtick bears a certain resemblance to nerdcore, and his voice bears comparison to mc chris. He falls some way short of Gremii da Muke (who I reviewed some weeks ago) in terms of sheer, hilarious revoltingness, but with lines like ‘my cock’s a harmonica/ and your bitch is blowing it’ he nails the infantile to a tee. The production is basic, and everything about the release is calculated to be shambolic and casual, from the moment you see the thrown-together cover. It’s not the acme of underground hip-hop, and it’s not the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, but this definitely got me laughing out loud.
Jeff Green – Jessica (progressive rock)
self released, 2009, DD album, DD or CD album, 1hr 2m 29s
$5 (DD)/ $15 (CD)
Writing about really major stuff can be a double edged sword, especially if you’re very public about the source of your inspiration. On the one hand, if it’s something of great importance to the artist then it may well inspire a great creative effort and a passionate commitment to the music; but on the other hand, it sets the audience up to expect a huge emotional impact. It’s a serious test of musical quality: can you come up with the goods and produce something capable of communicating the profound? In Jeff Green’s case, he’s produced an artistic response to the stillbirth of a daughter some years ago. It’s hard to imagine higher creative stakes, frankly. His musical language is old school progressive rock, with a largely conventional, tonal and blues based sound, although some of his melodic material is a little bit edgier. There’s a lot you can do, even with a bag of tricks as road worn as that, if, like Green, you have a great ear for orchestration. His electric guitar, and an array of synth sounds, are exploited with great textural and timbral variety; there’s some sophisticated playing, of every instrument; and the writing is complex, both in the overall formal arrangement of each piece, and in the detailed marshaling of its harmonic and melodic resources. It’s certainly not a grief-stricken or maudlin album, although there are undoubtedly moments of sadness, but there’s a genuine sense of emotional depth to it. Some tunes are powerhouses, surging forward like a car eating blacktop, but many take a more sedate, deliberate pace; the dynamics are varied, but the energy level is usually high, and I had a sense of an ultimately positive response to what must be one of the most crushing of all experiences. This is very open music: the sounds, grooves and melodies are all engaging and accessible. Green seems to be inviting us in, not to his grief, which will always be fundamentally private, but to whatever he’s learned from the experience. And what we learn from such moments of abject despair is always better expressed in music than in words. When I read the story behind Jessica I shed tears, but the effect of the music is quite different: this is a moving, beautiful and life affirming album.
Andy Long – Patches Of Coloured Light (solo bass)
self released, 2011, DD or CD album, 35m 27s
£name your price (DD)/ £5 (CD)
Most recordings featuring a single instrument, and particularly solo bass recordings, feature a certain amount of showing off. It’s not necessarily the main feature, it’s not necessarily in any way a drawback, but an element of conspicuous virtuosity is often present. It’s as though bass players need to justify putting themselves forward, as though they are saying ‘look, bass is a proper instrument, you can play hard stuff on it’. Andy Long seems content to let others do the proof of concept; he’s released a gentle and unassuming album of simple melody, open texture and limpid atmospheres, under a title that describes his sound as well as anything I could hope to write. Most of the material consists of simple chordal patterns, and delicate traceries of delay effects, although there’s a nice two part piece by Couperin and a lovely arrangement of ‘Morning Has Broken’. Everything is realised with precision and restraint, and the simplicity of the few elements in each arrangement allows Long’s musical thoughts to come through distinctly; the sound of his bass guitar is a consistent one, full range and bright, enhanced sometimes with modulation effects, but never disguised. It’s hard (impossible) to say whether he uses studio multitracking or live looping techniques, but it honestly hardly matters. His own material is rarely discursive, or even narrative in a conventional sense, but seems to be more focussed on atmosphere. This is not music that grabs you by the throat and demands your attention, but it’s a very relaxing and involving listen, and betrays a great deal of thought and care.
Chattabox – North Star (hip-hop)
Killamari, 2011, DD album, 33m 4s
This mixtape was Chattabox’s Christmas present to the world, which just goes to show how long it takes me to get around to reviewing stuff! I’ve reviewed a lot of stuff from the Dialect family now, and not a little of it from Chatta, so I have to be careful not to repeat myself, but the music itself always sounds amazingly fresh and inventive. The production is varied and provocative, inciting Mr. Box to intricacies of rhythm and wordplay that have you laughing half at his jokes, and half at his sheer chutzpah. He can be self-deprecating, but he can also boast like the best of them, and backs it up all the way, always with an uncompromising loyalty to his Northeast origins: ‘I’ve got that Northeast shit that makes you shit your keks’ he says, before dismissing his rivals with ‘the only loaded magazine you’re holding’s Loaded magazine’, which piece of barbed ridicule is a prime example of his consistently well-turned wit. This is a high energy album, but it has a lot of nuances, and creative touches. ‘Close You Down’ begins with a monologue from a voice that recalls the Birdland MC Pee Wee Marquette, once sampled on an Us3 track, but when the character returns later in the track, his voice becomes less American and more Northeast; the rhythms are oblique but driving, vocals and beats cutting across each other in a way that generates an accumulation of topspin intensity, until it’s released into spaces marked out with phat, funky punctuations; ‘Orchestrate’, with an acoustic guitar accompaniment, blurs the line between rap and singing, sounding very like Chatta’s work with Bristol based soul band Three Kings High. For a mixtape, this is a very varied and high-quality piece of work, and it’s an extremely entertaining tribute (given the various collaborators credited here) to the wealth of creativity and inventive energy that is the Dialect crew.