Mark Knight-Toolroom Knights 2xCD (Toolroom)(UK)
Probably one of the best mixes of the summer comes from one of the fastest rising stars in dance music-the Kent based Mark Knight. The Toolroom Knights series has actually been pretty uneven up to this point and I've found myself more irritated by the obviousness of some of the programming like on the Gabriel & Dresden installment and the overkill bombast of others like Martin Ten Velden than the delight of the small smattering of actual Toolroom releases appearing in the series. That has been one of the biggest problems in fact-the lack of the sanctioning label's material on any of the mixes which has, ironically, been consistently good. That problem is solved by having label owner Knight mix this installment and hardly any new Toolroom release is unturned giving this one a lot more life than any previous installment. Disk one is tasteful progressive and tech house sprinkled with some faint deep house vibes. There is some tribal rumble and a highly recommendable remix from Knight of Underworld's "Beautiful Burnout" but disk one is fairly hard to distinguish from another superstar UK DJ named Nic Fanciulli, whose "Scratch & Sniff" makes a rather obvious appearance here. Disk two is in essence a label showcase where the boss shows off his advances in what I am dubbing tech-trance, a place where minimal and melody collide. The problem is that too many producers have been placing the emphasis more firmly on melody and that's been leading to this current resurrgence of trance-bad trance-this summer. The good news is that some artists like Knight, Timmy Stewart, and Alexi Delano have been focusing more on rhythms and adding only hints of melody. The results sound an awful lot like Carl Craig but isn't that better than Tiesto anyways? On disk two, Knight delivers a mix that is heavy on rhythm and a scaled back selection of melodic passages. There are still some big time Pete Tong moments but I figure that's to be expected on any commercial mix these days but thankfully they are few and don't ruin an otherwise fine new release.
J. Boogie's Dubtronic Science-Soul Vibrations (OM Hip Hop)(US)
J. Boogie is arguably one of the San Francisco Bay area's finest DJs. Skills aside, the guy knows no bounds when it comes to genres and has always focused on getting people dancing. Too many jocks see barriers between house, disco, and hip hop whereas J. Boogie only sees opportunities and that's part of what makes him so special. Recently he has expanded his Dubtronic Science to a full six-piece band to play the lucrative festival circuits ala Spearhead or the Roots and a lot of that jam band grooviness is captured on the sophomore release Soul Vibrations. Here J. Boogie, the talented producer, takes that swingin' organic rootsiness and pares it down with some gritty MPC studio funk and a lot of collabos from talented (and some well-known) West Coast MCs. I expected the results to be a lot more uneven but here he applies the same principles he does as a DJ-keep it dancable so you can bob your head and keep the mood positive. The collaborators are well-selected and J. Boogie does make a track tough when he needs to keeping things from getting too fluffy. The new album really stretches the limits when it comes to the term hip hop as the album straddles many genres from latin to disco and hip hop to jam band but J. Boogie once again proves why he's one of the best in the game by always foward moving, keeping the productions tight, and ALWAYS a track with a good beat so you can dance to it.
Madlib: The Beat Konducta-WLIB AM: King of the Wigflip (Rapster)(US)
This release is the last installment of the highly-influential Beat Generation series that the Rapster label pioneered. Here the talented West Coast producer and MC Madlib picks up the torch left behind by the late J Dilla of Detroit and gives it the loopy, doped out twist you'd only expect from a crazy mo-fo like Madlib. This is a good hip hop album as Madlib moves beyond the now-ubiquitous J Dilla invented studio tricks of hip hop circa 2008 (can anyone say Kanye West??) with a steez that can only be described as all his own. WLIB AM is somewhere between a proper mixtape and a stoned afternoon of TV viewing the album lopes along at its own lazy pace somewhere between the " cosmic explorations" of Sun-Ra and his Arkestra and the gritty street funk of DJ Premier with some not so subtle nods to Jay Dee and the midwest electro takeover that is almost impossible to ignore in any facet of modern dance music. The guest MCs still have nothing to say but that doesn't slow this album down in any way and hardly anything detracts from one of the few bright spots in 2008 hip hop. Sad to see this series go but glad to see it helmed by one of the last great crate diggers.
UNKLE-End Titles...Stories For Film (Surrender All) (US)
Remember when James Lavelle and his Mo'Wax label ruled dance music and people actually liked trip hop? Lavelle formed UNKLE with DJ Shadow and the two crafted an interesting album of disjointed pop, hip hop, and other forms that defied logic. Well Lavelle and Shadow have long since parted ways and the follow-up releases from Lavelle and a revolving door of collaborators have been either uneven or inspired to put it kindly. The latest from UNKLE is a collection of music created for or inspired by film giving the whole project that same quirky disjointed feel as earlier releases and for the most part it works despite the mash-up of stoner and indie rock, electronica, and ambient soundtrack mood music. Suprisingly rockers like "Chemical" featuring Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age fit well alongside electronica like "Romeo Void" and even Bob Dylan-inspired folk from film director Abel Ferrara on "Open Up Your Eyes". I can't say I 100% loved End Titles but the odd nature and the collection of good songs kept my attention until I realized my iPod could do the same thing.
Anamnesis-This Is The Way The World Ends mix (US)
This mix was given to me by Billy Hopkins-one half of the local duo Anamnesis-and explores more of the punchy, electro rock side of dance music. The mix is sugary sweet with fistfuls of vocal cuts, stuttered editing tricks, and 8 bit bleeps ala Simian Mobile Disco or Hot Chip. It's a great summer time driving mix that is memorable enough to stand up to repeat plays but overall is just a little too silly to be considered a classic.