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Blockhead - Music by Cavelight


Review: Jack Foley

THE PR for Blockhead credits the New York-based DJ with producing some of 'the most sublime, understated, melancholic hip hop you're likely to hear this year'. And it pretty much hits the nail firmly on the head.

IndieLondon started to get excited about Blockhead around December last year (2003), when he released his Insomniac Olympics EP - and the subsequent album, Music by Cavelight, more than lives up to the potential shown there.

And for those who haven't caught up yet, then Blockhead arrives with some impeccable credentials, being compared to the next DJ Shadow or RJD2, after having made a name for himself by working with the likes of Aesop, Slug of Atmosphere, Murs, Mike Ladd and SA Smash.

The album bears similarities to all of those artists, while also containing a style all of its own - one which, while ponderous and deeply moody, is a joy from start to finish.

The aforementioned Insomniac Olympics, which sets its stall out as an anti-fanfare album opener, gets things off to a blistering start, with its captivating horns, driving bass, brooding organs and big beat - rather like DJ Shadow at his most pensive.

It is during these moments that the hip-hop element of downtown New York is really captured, as the track oozes attitude, without saying anything vocally - except for a deeply distorted sample late on.

Carnivores Unite combines some elegaic strings with a slomo disco bass, while You've Got Maelstrom simply feels made for the midnight hour.

And yet as brash as things can become, there is also an inherent sadness to some of his music, most notable in the tear-stained piano keys of tracks such as Sunday Seance or Triptych, Part 1, which wrap you up in their melancholy beauty.

It is here that Blockhead, quite possibly, transcends the hip-hop genre, reaching out into far wider territory, and taking his listeners on the journey with him, during which he also gets to flex his creative muscles.

Blockhead isn't afraid to speed up a vocal or two, a la Wu Tang, and then slows it down to create a series of choral effects throughout his Triptych epic, while simultaneously keeping the beats crisp, hard and rock steady.

Think the best of Bonobo, with elements of DJ Shadow, Murs and Aesop Rock thrown in, and you're pretty much in the right sort of neighbourhood.

Think ideal mood music for a film soundtrack, and you're somewhere close too.

This is, quite simply, spellbinding stuff - musical magic spun on the decks of a new DJ master. Make sure you cast your musical lights on Blockhead.

Editor's note: A limited edition run of the album will come with a bonus disc of instrumentals of a selection of the Blockhead-produced tracks from the three Aesop Rock albums. It can be accessed via one of the links on this page.

Related review: Downtown Silence (the new Blockhead album)

Track listing:
1. Insomniac Olympics
2. Carnivores Unite
3. You’ve Got Maelstrom
4. Sunday Seance
5. A Better Place
6. Road Rage Breakdown
7. Triptych Part 1
8. Triptych Part 2
9. Triptych Part 3
10. Jet Son
11. Breathe And Start
12. Music By Cavelight

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