Blockhead - Downtown Science (2005)

This is a recent Ninja Tune release I checked out recently. It's a mix of lo-fi instrumental hiphop and eclectic samples.

While not as refined as DJ Shadow or Amon Tobin, Blockhead has some good tracks that make for a pleasant excursion into downtempo sampladelia.

I like the grittiness and lo-fi aesthetic of the album, similar to the sounds used by DJ Cam and DJ Premier. La Funk Mob also use of sounds with a lot of texture. Downtown Science follows in that vein, with an eclectic mix of lo-fi beats and sonic textures.

The lo-fi textures reveal their nature as vinyl samples, of which this album has an abundance. Were it not for the advent of turntables, albums like this (and most of DJ Shadow's work for that matter) would cease to exist. Which is not to say that these albums are uncreative, far from it -- just that their aesthetic depends heavily on samples of vinyl records.

The hodgepodge of samples can be a bit abrasive at times but overall the album is a good collection of rare grooves mixed with often surprising segues.

Some of the songs are a bit "guitar-y" for me (Good Block Bad Block) and the lo-fi/indy aesthetic is taken a bit past my comfort level. But, these are balanced by warm, atmospheric tunes that are more welcoming (Serenade). Again, I should point out that I'm just not much of a fun of guitar rock guitar solos in electronic music, so your mileage may vary.

So, overall I would recommend listening to it if you get the chance , simply to hear something unusual and unique. But, I can't really recommend buying it without hearing it first, because the same elements that make it unusual and unique may also deter a large audience. There will certainly be a niche who appreciate this album, but I would definitely recommend listening before you buy.

Also, in my opinion, it just lacks a bit in the composition and production department. Some of the mixes just don't seem to jive that well, and the times when it is grooving kind of get corny and played out with guitar licks. I appreciate the effort and about half of the album is recommendable, but taking the album as a whole, I would skip more tracks than I'd listen to.

If I had to pick stars, I would give it 3 out of 5. There are a couple of great songs (Expiration Date, The First Snowfall), remiscient of Amon Tobin, DJ Shadow and DJ Cam. But, these were outshadowed by harsh beats that just didn't click with me (ie: Dough Nation, Crashing Down).

On top of that, much of the mixing and production seemed a bit off, like the kick and snare being way too loud on Crashing Down and the clave being the loudest instrument on Quiet Storm.

I don't mean to nitpick, I'm just explaining my rationale for not being able to wholeheartedly recommend it. Would I recommend listening to it? Yes. But, making it a permanent addition to your collection? Not likely. Sure, there will be a niche out there who "gets it," but for many of us the eclectic and abrasive nature of many of the songs will put us off from the album.

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