Back in summer I was evangelising about the feel good benefits of sure-to-be soul superstar Mayer Hawethorne and to my surprise Stones Throw have done It again with their latest release, Aloe Blacc’s sophomore effort ‘Good Things’.
Like Hawethorne’s album this is a Hip-Hop informed soul album rather than a plagiaristic attempt of recreating the magic of 60’s Motown and Stax. The most obvious track to feature is its lead single ‘I Need A Dollar’ which gained fame from appearing in the title sequence of some HBO show…If only The Wire could do the same for Tom Waits.
Though his latest effort draws almost exclusively from soul with perhaps a dash of hip-hop, this was not always the case. Soul has been an influence throughout and has been increasing steadily in proportion to hip-hop till reaching its peak with ‘Good Things’. Before branching off as a solo artist Aloe was one half of the duo Emanon, the other half being Exile (not to be confused with british IDM/electronica wizard Tim Exile, previously known only as Exile).
This project is probably the ‘purest’ hip-hop he has been involved in and in line with the quality of his later work it is excellent. Upon showing one track (I forget which) to grand master Phil Mace he said ‘This sounds like Atmosphere’ – and since they are one of his favourites I guess that is a fairly high accolade. On the other hand I think it would be pretty hard to tar Emanon with the ’emo-rap’ brush that so afflicts their self-pitying selves, that is not to say that this is hyper masculine gangsta chauvinist bullshit, Emanon recall the more positive message of old-skool stalwarts such as De La Soul, Soul Sonic Force et al.
Aloe’s solo debut was his first to feature a much more overt soul influence (though he uses this term broadly to refer to Salsa, Reggae and music more traditionally thought as ‘soul’), his rapping virtually absent however the sub-bass and wonky percussion are more Dilla rather than Mayfield. One of the more unexpected influences I picked up on was that of afrobeat, not so much from a percussive point of view but in terms of melody there are echoes of Fela Kuti in many of the lead parts.
In the space of four of five lines I have managed to reference five genres so to call this album eclectic would be an understatement, In my opinion this is the album’s greatest strength but also its greatest weakness; in its variety there is a lack of direction. Then again hip-hop tends to be more focused upon songs rather than albums. Sometimes ideas seem conceptually interesting but can’t quite be executed in reality. One such example of this is ‘Long Time Coming’ a reworking of Sam Cooke’s classic ‘It’s Been A Long Time’. The track opens with a gospel-esque choir which in theory makes perfect sense (Gospel being a huge influence upon Cooke’s music and Blues in general) but in practice it sounds a little overblown for the otherwise minimal arrangement. Despite this minor faux-pas the track features one of the best beats I have heard outside of Jay Dee and Madlib’s discographies. Enjoy.
Conversely lack of consistency is a criticism that could never be aimed at Blacc’s new album and although this might be at the sacrifice of some of the innovation and experimentation of his debut in my view it represents a more mature and complete album. I can only plead for one of you to join me as he headlines the excellent Hi-Fi club in Leeds in a few weeks, see ya there