albums of 2006

j dilla :: donuts

Stones Throw

I was playing records to a full dancefloor when I found out about the passing of Jay Dee. A friend was holding his hands to his head and yelling at me ‘Jay Dee's dead, Jay Dee's dead, play something, play a track!’ All i had with me that night was ‘Let The Dollar Circulate’, a single that had come out late in 2005 with the vocals of Steve Spacek slithering on top of a typically phenomenal beat. I put the needle to the instrumental and the sound played to an unsuspecting dancefloor. The three of us in the room who knew of his passing stopped and listened to it's wonky funk and had a slightly sombre moment as we watched the people moving in front of the speakers. They swayed neither more nor less than they had before. To most of them, it was any other song in the middle of their dancing. In three minutes it was gone and there were more songs. It was an inauspicious moment but i guess I didn't realise that at the time.

So much has been written about James Yancey in the last ten months, so many people have lamented his death. If anyone had cared to calculate it, I would be curious to know if more people had listened to Jay Dee in the last ten months than they had in the last thirty two years. That in itself makes me sad. I have to admit I am no Jay Dee afficionado, and I have certainly drunk in more Dilla goodness since February than I had previously. But on investigation, I knew more Dilla beats than I thought. ‘What? He produced that? Damn, I never knew. I love that song.’ Over and over again. Listening to the J-Rocc Stones Throw podcast tribute is a nonstop joyride of sound. It could go on for ever without any vocals, without and emcees and your mind would be soothed by the endless roll of bass and snare, that snare always so there, always snapping into your mind relentlessly; don't forget me, i'm still here, honour me. I think of that snare like Jay Dee himself. That snare will talk to us for ever and to those unborn who seek out his music in the future.

The Roots producer and drummer Ahmir Thompson aka ?uestlove has been a champion of Jay Dee both in life and death. In essays and liner notes he speaks of him as if he existed on a plane above and beyond everyone else, as if he were ultimately untouchable. It's always amazing when someone - themselves so talented - speaks so reverently about another artist. And I have to admit I was slightly off put when I read that ?uestlove admitted that once he knew Jay Dee's death was imminent he made it his mission to glean every ounce of production know how from him. But there was nothing malevolent about it. Indeed it seemed, at least from this outsider's view, that he was so devastated by the news of his imminent passing and what it meant (not only for Hip Hop but music in general) that he considered it his duty to try and make the legacy of Jay Dee live on any way he could. All credit to him.

James Yancey suffered from a rare form of Lupus that attacked his kidneys. It's now the stuff of legend that ‘Donuts’ was completed while Jay Dee was in hospital with family and friends bringing him records and bits of equipment so that he could finish the album. Perhaps I'm too informed by that knowledge but when I listen to this record, I hear sadness in it, the sound of those soul singers wrenched through Dilla's sampler and spat back out atop a beat sounds like a lament for a life that was ended well before its time. I know I sound dramatic but I've listened to this record over and over and over. I still feel that after nearly a year and I'm sure that it will be the same in ten years.

Donuts is made up of 30 “instrumentals” of which only two are longer than two minutes. But the word instrumentals should be taken lightly because all it means is that there are no MC's in sight. There are huge slabs of vocals on this album, some you might know and others you definitely won't and it is bursting with joy to counteract those aforementioned moments of sadness. In the Hip Hop community, producers trade little samplers of their work known as beat tapes. The beat tape is a place where a producer can do a bit of showing off, sample something they'd never usually get the rights for or something very rare and ‘flip it‘. The flip is when a producer takes a song or a portion of a song and re-arranges it in a very elaborate way. Jay Dee was a master of the beat flip and Donuts could be said to be the master class if you will. I've probably only heard five of the original thirty or so songs that Dilla flipped for Donuts and I'm sure in time I will hear more. But I don't need to know those songs to enjoy this record because it is one of the most incredible forty minutes of sound your ears will ever hear. Over and over I listen to this record and I hear new things. Listen on headphones, you will hear things lurking that you never imagined. There are some moments of pure show and tell - ‘Don't Cry’ comes to mind - where you hear four bars of a song and then it is re-arranged in tempo and rhythm and mood seemingly at the flick of a switch. (The Flip of a switch?) There are other tricks, isms and quirks on the album that are undoubtedly more subtle and hidden. Discovering these will be the joy of ‘Donuts’ for the years to come. If there's one thing that people always seem to say about Dilla it was that he was a humble soul, he lived for music, he didn't want the big cheque and the fame, he just wanted to make beats.

if you don't own this you should buy it. if you don't get this you should go home.

J Dilla, we salute you.

***NEWS FLASH*** Stones Throw have just put up a second tribute to J Dilla mix by J Rocc on their podcast. It is PHAT and is a perfect companion to the first part which we have been listening to non-stop since it hit out hard drives. Check out the podcast page.

flying lotus :: 1983 [plug research]

Stephen Ellison is the one behind Flying Lotus whose album 1983 has rocked our socks since it came out in early October on the ever reliable Plug Research. Once home to Melbournite Jeremy Dower the label has provided a platform for this very short (34 minutes!) but nonetheless enchanting record, a journey into the sonic landscape that accompanies the short films inside this 23 year olds brain. Firmly entrenched in the Los Angeles beat-making community, Ellison must often dream of space or perhaps it’s his much talked of Coltrane roots as a great nephew of Alice and cousin of Ravi.

Just one listen to this record is all you’ll need to know that this kid isn’t resting on the laurels of his lineage. 1983 comes on like a woozy and beautiful LSD comedown, you’ll fight and kick but inevitably be seduced by the interplay of drums and squelchy bass, which loll around like a ragdoll with a snapped neck on “Pet Monster Shotglass” and the opening title track, “1983”. And as a general rule throughout the album, it's only when you start truly getting in sync with the grooves that you begin to notice the ethereal synths and dismembered samples, their shiny tones intimating outer space, a distant sonic milky way where intergalactic heroes make love and war with one another against a supernova backdrop. With it's seemingly loose approach to quantization and almost lo-fi approach, it's not an album that grabs you immediately. The opening title track and &ldqPet Monster Shotglass” are the first obvious points of reference as 1983 rolls out of your stereo but it's the other, shorter cuts on the album which eventually captivate.

“Bad Actors” rises up like a Madlib or Jay Dee out-take and then just as quickly as you’re hooked by its moody eastern-soul grit and shimmering string line, it's gone, faded back into the soup. “Orbit Brazil” is next, two minutes and forty seconds of motor city broken beat, which initially plays nicely for the feet, but then slowly seeps in to the mind, its blooming synthesizers playing off the kick and claps.

On the CD version of the record, Daedelus turns in a somehow even wonkier version of “1983” which breaks into a psychedelic double-time rock moment before shifting back to the stuttering beat, so rough it’ll have drummers hurling.

Other highlights include “Untitled # 7” which could almost be a nod to Carl Craig with it’s hypnotic rhythmic repetition and delicious tone as well as “Unexpected Delight” a dreamy Bossa inspired number that features the vocals of Laura Darlington atop some tidy percussion loops, synthesizer and samples. In fact Brazil is a recurring point of reference either in title or mood across this Flying Lotus record, the second track Sao Paulo fades at its end to reveal an unashamed chunk of unidentified music undoubtedly hailing from the home of Tropicalia.

You’re going to hear a lot more about Flying Lotus. We can’t get enough of this record and we can’t wait for the next one. We just hope it’s longer!

Check out these Flying Lotus links:

Flying Lotus Myspace
Plug Research Artist Page
Flyamsam Myspace

2006 top tens

top tens of 2006 in no particular order

Declan Kelly

  • Post :: Post
  • Herbert :: Scale
  • Flying Lotus :: 1983
  • V/A :: Troplicalia
  • J Dilla :: Donuts
  • Madlib :: Movie Scenes 1-2
  • El Michels Affair :; Shaolin Series Wu-Tang Covers
  • Joanna Newsom :: Ys
  • V/A :: Boogaloo Pow Wow
  • The Crayon Fields :: Impossible Things

Richard Campbell

  • RBMA :: Melbourne 2006
  • J Dilla :: Donuts
  • Spanish Lessons
  • El Michels Affair :: Shaolin Series Wu Tang Covers
  • Dabrye :: Two Three
  • V/A :: Panama :: Soundway
  • V/A :: Tropicalia
  • Cinnaman and Jay Scarlet :: Beat Dimensions
  • Saturday Night gigs at the Marquis of Lorne
  • Digging through old records

Neil Stafford

  • Benji B at the Espy
  • J Dilla :: Donuts
  • Ole Guunnar Solskjaer
  • Sopranos season 6
  • V/A ::Stones Throw Podcasts
  • Quantic and Nikodemeus :: Los Hermanos series
  • Tamas Jones and Jason Evans :: Time To Noodle Mix CD
  • Pure Essence :: Third Rock
  • Open Souls :: Rise Up Pt. 2
  • My Folk Lover

David Hagger

  • V/A ::Stones Throw Podcasts
  • Flying Lotus :: 1983
  • Nicole Willis and The Soul Investigators : Keep Reachin’ Up
  • Dimlite :: This is Embracing
  • V/A :: Chrome Children
  • Faux Pas :: Entropy Begins at Home
  • Miller + Fiam :: Modern Romance
  • V/A :: Tropicalia – A Brazilian Revolution in Sound
  • Jan Jelinek :: Tierbeobachtungen
  • FourPlay String Quartet :: Now To The Future