Beautiful Mind [EP] ** 1/2
Descending into the obscure and murky dungeon of Brooklyn’s underground across the shadowy figures of the Def Jux family spitting their cryptic philosophies and arcane words of wisdom, you veer another way to find a hip hop logician concocting a special brew of witty, often facetious lyricism and idiosyncratic beats in his very own underground lair. NE Robert Alan Diaz, Pumpkinhead’s got a raucous, forceful delivery, remindful of a Latino Aesop Rock and his rasping voice lays it down severely on the first track, “Blacklisted,” letting listeners hear his scorn for ritzy, fashion show rap: “I rap better than you, duke/I do it for the love/You do it for new shoes.” “Pumpin (Pause!!!),” a straight, no chaser, hip hop theme song, is hewn with gritty lyrics, atop a baleful beat, a dark, driving bass line and grandiose organs in the background. With “Supahstar (The Anti-Bouncers Theme),” he shoots a sardonic bullet-on a sitar-filled melody-at the domineering club gorillas, sputtering his disdain at the bouncers in a satirical, derisive story where the unrelenting bouncer (who won’t let him in) loses his job when Pumpkin realizes he knows the club owner from high school.
On “Mujer Triste,” his love ballad-melodic percussions, harps and gentle piano riffs-the rapper displays his sensibility to love: “I sit in the dark wondering why you take these routes, dealing with these men spewing hate out they mouths […]/They can care less, that’s not what love’s about.” Then, on “Brooklyn Academy,” feat. Immortal Technique, he comes back hard, marking his territory with a hawk-eye: “I’m beast of the underground/I’m hotter than lava rocks,” while always keeping a clever lyrical verve: “8 million stories in this world I’m told/ So on my notebook is where I put ’em/ You just a Junior like Cuba Goodin’.”
The energy and charisma of a ravenous MC is there, paving the way for another underground hip hop emissary, and his vibrant rhyme-style incites a cadenced head nod, though some hackneyed truisms occasionally submerge his nascent astuteness and fresh acumen on life in the urban jungle. Go to www.thirdearthmusic.com for more info.
– Omar Sommereyns
The Colored Section
Today’s Neo-Soul scene borrows from the sounds of such luminaries as Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone. However, most of the artists in this scene falter from the absence of urgency that seeps through the speakers when one listens to classic soul records from the late ’60s and ’70s.
Donnie’s The Colored Section is a perfect example of this problem. On “Cloud 9” and “Wildlife,” he cranks out what might as well be lost outtakes from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions sessions. On “Big Black Buck” he lifts several lines from Sly while he grooves along to some New Orleans flavored reeds. The blatant borrowing continues throughout the disc’s 14 tracks.
Musically, most of the tunes are on point with fluid choruses and perfect, lush production, and credit is due to producer/engineer/arranger Steve “The Scotsman” Harvey. It is obvious who is the mastermind behind this album. The background provided for Donnie is so well orchestrated that it’s a shame the man fronting these songs sounds so generic. Lyrically, it might as well be 1972. When he’s not verbally caressing his woman, Donnie is putting his “message” out to the people. If he wants to address the still stagnant stench of intolerance and trouble in America’s cities, he needs to up the ante and bring some new sounds to the table. Nobody would have listened to the message of the soul legends Donnie tips his hat to if they hadn’t concocted fresh formulas unheard to the average ear.
– Michael John Hancock
Badly Drawn Boy
Have You Fed the Fish?
After winning the Mercury Music Prize for his 2000 debut The Hour Of Bewilderbeast and scoring the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About A Boy, Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy) has turned out a happy little album, sure to accompany your ride to the beach with modest simplicity.
The record opens with two semi-decent numbers before one of the better examples of Gough’s ability, “40 Days. 40 Fights” hits the listener like a dodge ball on the blacktop. Even the more serious numbers are overflowing with optimism, but never to the extent that Badly Drawn Boy is beating you over the head with his half-full bottle of beer. The playing on the tunes is superb, with a predictable cast of characters for a hipster singer/songwriter. Drummer Joey Waronker, studio wizard Jon Brion, and other pros add just the right amount of punch to tracks like the schmaltzy “Tickets To What You Need.”
The best characteristic of this music is the ability to sound relaxed and loose while remaining tight and precisely produced. With Gough’s wife and kids counting off the ethereal closer “Bedside Story,” the Boy and company have fed not only the fish, but a whole zoo of head-held-high notions.
– Michael John Hancock
Omar Sommereyns can be reached at SOASIS@aol.com