Blockhead – Interludes After Midnight (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
EVER one to inject the cinematic into his music, Blockhead – aka Tony Simon – returns with another dusky great in the form of the appropriately entitled Interludes After Midnight on the ever impressive Ninja Tune label.
Described as a pre-digital roadmap through the musical consciousness of Blockhead, this is an album full of dusty samples of beeping synths, smooth horn samples blended with seamlessly funky percussion, split up vocal breaks and constantly evolving compositions that twist, turn and grind their way into your psyche.
Take, for instance, the brilliantly insistent Panic in Funkytown, which drops a persuasive percussion and mixes it with vocal samples, funky organs and some cracking, albeit fleeting, flute moments. It’s like a mix of Bonobo, DJ Shadow and Blockhead.
In stark, playful contrast, however, is the Hungover Like Whoa, which offers the type of lazy beat that’s perfectly suited to an aching head, complete with a warped vocal intro and some intermittent electronics.
If a lot of the sounds have a dated feel more synonymous with the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, then this is deliberate too. For Simon freely admits that Interludes After Midnight is an homage to the times and places that defined his musical upbringing, from the films of Truffaut to a New York City public access show that ran throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Hence, there are no easy nods to more commonly recognised hip-hop culture, even though some of the beat arrangements have that flavour.
If anything, Blockhead is diverse enough to keep things mixed up and continually surprising. Meet You At Tower Records, for instance, is another wonderfully playful fusion of slick beats and funky electronics that puts an easy smile on your face, while bringing back memories of flicking through the vinyls for that treasure trove cut you may have missed. Once more, the flutes add a brilliant addition, as does a self-consciously cool old-skool hip-hop homage.
Escape The Meadow has an upbeat energy that’s pretty darn persuasive, as does the effortlessly cool Smoke Signals, but there’s more playful vocal samples and an ‘80s hip-hop meets electronic vibe on the hip Tools of the Industry that rates as another firm favourite.
Blockhead’s ability to slow the tempo and come over slightly melancholy (but no less addictive) is evident on the bluesy Midnight Blue, while there’s a sly nod to David Holmes on Snapping Point, which is just downright funky in a ‘70s leaning kind of way.
Beyond Reach combines a melancholy central piano with hushed, vaguely electronic vocals from Baby Dayliner that recalled Moby at times, while The Robin Byrd Era draws things to a close in suitably nocturnal fashion to leave you in a blissed out state, laidback and totally cool state of mind.
But then Blockhead has long offered a musical remedy to the bland mainstream that thrives on his ability to mix the surprisingly cinematic with the vaguely hip-hop while pleasing himself in the process. There won’t be too many cooler records this year.
Download picks: Panic in Funkytown, Meet You At Tower Records, Smoke Signals, Tools of the Industry, Midnight Blue, Snapping Point, Beyond Reach, The Robyn Byrd Era