A quiet, thoughtful, leftfield success for fans of the genre formerly known as trip hop.
Daryl Easlea 2011-05-20
Dinner At The Thompson’s – French DJ/producer FabLive and US singer Lucille Tee – began working together in 2005. Feted by the likes of Gilles Peterson, the duo’s intelligent mix of jazz-influenced hip hop, funk and electronica has been one of the better underground successes of recent years.
Off the Grid is more of the same following 2007’s Lifetime On Planet Earth, with its impeccably selected samples and claustrophobic arrangements. It is an album that reveals its riches in a leisurely fashion. Single How Can I has all the bounce of The Brand New Heavies in their prime, while the siren-heavy It All Began manages to balance discordance and melody perfectly. Western Spaghetti, with its French spoken-word interludes, pays homage to the moody magnificence of both Serge Gainsbourg and Ennio Morricone.
The alvum is most successful when the duo are joined by special guests. Stones Throw rapper Guilty Simpson appears on Rice ‘N Beans, the album’s best track – over a stuttering, funk-laden backdrop, Simpson’s gritty rap adds gravitas to Tee’s vocal. Veteran singer Lee Fields similarly enlivens Different Beings, which, arrangement aside, sounds not unlike an unreleased soul classic from 1972. A similar feeling of déjà vu occurs with the old-school slow jam You Are Love. At an almost funereal pace, it evokes both The Isley Brothers’ Sensuality and Minnie Riperton’s Lovin’ You.
Less successful is Tee’s rapping on Whatever It Takes, which highlights the album’s main fault – at times, although the components are in place, it is simply not original enough. I’m sure the sampled "ah, yeah" is in the mix ironically, but it sounds like you’ve just stumbled across a white rock band trying to get ‘fonky’ back in 1988.
With its lazy beats and sultry nightclub vocals, Off the Grid could have been released at any point in the past 20 years. While it may not break ground sonically, these are well-written songs, designed to be performed live. Hardly revolutionary, it is a quiet, thoughtful, leftfield success for fans of the genre formerly known as trip hop; like stepping into a trendy inner-city vinyl shop at the turn of the century.