An engrossing instrumental hip hop album to be admired.
Sam Hesketh 2010-01-14
Anthony Simon, aka Blockhead, is a producer known well in underground hip hop circles. His debut album, Music By Cavelight, is a near-perfect example of how to make an instrumental hip hop album, ranked by some alongside the likes of RJD2's Deadringer and DJ Shadow's classic Entroducing, highlighting his ability to make minor chords and autumnal nuances seem like the perfect soundtrack for any occasion. Others also know his production work for Aesop Rock, refining his sound on the rapper’s Labor Days LP after Float initially elevated his reputation.
The New Yorker brings his career up to date with The Music Scene, creating even more diverse soundscapes by melting beats and hooks together that other producers wouldn't even consider. Right from the off, on It's Raining Clouds, he signals his intent, moving from a down-tempo beat into the double-time patterns he'd experimented with on his previous record, 2007’s limited-run Uncle Tony's Coloring Book. Speeding drums up might not be a new production technique, but to patchwork two completely different beats as one and carry it off is certainly something to be admired.
Throughout the album, Blockhead changes his style whilst at the same time stringing the tracks together into a sonic journey to be enjoyed. A clichéd metaphor maybe, but never has it been truer as the producer weaves between horns and acoustic guitars on Only Sequences Change and almost classical vocals over skittish boom-bap drums on Attack the Doctor. He even finds time to throw in a body-winding bassline, the kind that could’ve easily found itself on the soundtrack to a 70s feature film, on Tricky Turtle.
Some instrumental albums can suffer from the lack of vocals, losing the listener's attention unless they are picking apart details in their headphones, but The Music Scene doesn't succumb to this fate. Whilst there are plenty of intricacies to discover, our protagonist proves how adept his beat-making is by always featuring that one hook or remarkable drum smack which will keep even the most passive of audiences interested.
In The Music Scene, Blockhead has made both pretty melancholic tracks and straight-up thump-the-desk bangers bedfellows, and for that the new decade should be eternally thankful.