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Blockhead - Downtown Silence


Review: Jack Foley

BLOCKHEAD, aka Tony Simon, first came to our attention with his excellent debut, Music By Cavelight, the critically-acclaimed album that boasted such fine cuts as Insomniac Olympics and Sunday Seance.

He returns with Downtown Silence, a collection of work dedicated to the downtown area of Manhattan where he grew up and has lived his entire life.

The album is designed to encompass all the attitude, anger and edginess of the neighbourhood, plus some melancholy reflections upon failed relationships and the promise of future loves.

Explains Blockhead himself: "Downtown Manhattan is the influence because that's my environment; it's romantic at times and violent at others."

Needless to say, Blockhead's own brand of emotional instrumental hip hop is perfectly suited to capturing the vibrancy and edginess of one of NYC's best-loved districts.

Downtown Silence is a truly emotive collection of tracks - some almost DJ Shadow-esque in scope and others that draw on the sadness and despair of being a New Yorker (both personally and in light of recent tragedy).

It is an intelligent album that takes a few listens to properly appreciate, especially since there is no instant classic to stand out like Insomniac Olympics (which really did blow us away).

But give it time and there is an awful lot to admire, even if not every track fails to resonate as deeply as it did for the DJ himself.

Choice cuts to look out for, therefore, are the orchestral Quiet Storm, which features the album at its funkiest (with some sharp stabs of jazz, probably in part-homage to Woody Allen?).

Or the atmospheric, yet serenely beautiful The First Snowfall, which paints a vivid picture of an early morning Big Apple sprinkled in the season's first white dust.

The low-key beat is truly magnetic, as are the subtle electronics that effectively recapture the magic of seeing a fresh snowfall for the first time (complete with some stabs of guitar that are supposed to represent a blizzard).

The haunting whistles and ragged guitar riffs that help Long Walk Home to unfold are also special, serving to bring the album to a satisfying close.

Elsewhere, there's a real touch of the epic scope of DJ Shadow's work on the sublime, cinematic opening track, Expiration Date (which also features a strong vocal sample).

And there's a joyful romanticism attached to the electric piano-linked Serenade, which was inspired by an unrequited love.

The Art of Walking, with its clap-happy funky beats, waltzing stabs of flute and easy-going 'yeah, yeah, yeahs' is one to get you dancing - a cheeky little chappy that really puts a smile on your face.

If the rest of the album fails to measure up entirely, there is still plenty of atmospheric mood music to get you thinking, or have you reflecting on any time spent in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Downtown Silence is therefore a very good follow-up for Blockhead that shows plenty of signs of progression. It's little wonder that New Yorker's have embraced him and that he can walk in the same DJ circles as Shadow and co.

Editor's note: The CD release of Downtown Silence also includes a bonus DVD that includes the winners of the film-making competition that Ninja ran for Music By Cavelight.

Running from traditional pop promos to short films using the music more like a soundtrack, the whole of Blockhead's debut album is presented here in several visual forms.

Related review: Music By Cavelight reviewed

Track listing:
Disc: 1
1. Expiration Date
2. Roll Out The Red Carpet
3. Serenade
4. Cherry Picker
5. Crashing Down
6. Stop Motion Traffic
7. Art Of Walking
8. Good Block Bad Block
9. Dough Nation
10. Quiet Storm
11. First Snowfall - Blockhead
12. Long Walk Home

Disc: 2
1. Music By Cavelight Film

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