By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
That Dublab allows and encourages such border crossings is its greatest strength, and it brings us to this album’s midpoint, a trio of tracks where genre falls away and what emerges are various new, new things. Yesterday’s New Quintet, a funk-and-jazz quintet led by Madlib, are a hypercharged version of Sun Ra bringing the funk. Their contribution, “Soul Searchin’,” lines up a dozen asymmetrical drum breaks and beats and rolls, overlaying the results with record pops, synth squiggles, and bass lines that walk until they stroll off. The sounds on this particular track could be real, might be Memorex, but — untrained and unrestrained — it’s as refreshing a take on electronic jazz as Amon Tobin’s organic beats were four years back. It bops, and it’s got heat.
Rap veteran Divine Styler contributes “Shen,” the album’s most impressive track. Clocking in at only 2.5 minutes, it’s composed of a concentrated blast of negative space: His double-tracked rap-rasp and short sub-bass beats leave holes in your chest. The antimatter sound lends some authority to whatever it is he’s going on about. This is rap as mantra: “I break thought down/Unlock your crown,” he chants 11 times, followed by the refrain, “The reason my inflection is deep in my shen.” “Shen” is a hip-hop number that’s spiritual in its depths. Possessing an idiosyncratic religious/sci-fi vibe as difficult to integrate within mainline hip-hop history as Kool Keith or P.M. Dawn, Divine Styler finds a home here.
The discovery of the compilation is 32-year-old Damon Aaron, a singer-songwriter-producer who feels deeply and sends his words out as uncut emotion. Imagine that Van Morrison had grown up in a time of hip-hop beats. Imagine that HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey sang the blues on his deathbed. Over a moody bed of orchestral fragments and a slow boom-bap, the five minutes of Aaron’s “Don’t Get Up” are the new benchmark in vocally phrasing torture: “Don’t get up again/What good can be done here?/Let go all those tears/Don’t you have no fear/I won’t get up again/All my troubles stayin’ down/Won’t get up again/All my troubles stayin’ down/I won’t get up again/Sorry/Guess I just don’t know my position/You won’t be coming back/Give up before you pass/Turn off all the lights.” An impressionistic yet machine-aided feat, Aaron’s narration brings to mind the fact that Los Angeles boasts not only America’s best weather but its most unrelenting smog.
With Freeways, Los Angeles could become more than electronica’s next big car town. It has far more range than that. Remember, California has more immigrants than any other state, and upward of 40 percent of Los Angeles’ population is foreign-born. Freeways’ roster includes musicians hailing from Buenos Aires and Austria, Iran and Wales, and their message will hopefully travel beyond L.A. County’s borders. This record proves you can use machines to extend the sounds of the body, instead of using them to build up an ever-mightier electronic fortress.
VARIOUS ARTISTS | Dublab Presents . . . Freeways | (Emperor Norton)