The Squeeze box: Blockhead – Downtown Science (2005)

21 12 2010

Most underground hip hop fans probably know Blockhead as Aesop Rock’s favorite producer. Downtown Science sounds very different from any Aesop produced track, however. The familiar use of orchestral samples is still present but more restrained, and in many cases has been replaced by more electric sounding guitars. Blockhead uses a lot of strange sounds that come and go at a moments notice, but every song still has a solid foundation for this schizophrenic sense to work within.

Released in 2005 Downtown Science succeeds where many others have failed. Instead of trying to repeat the formula of his predecessors in instrumental hip hop from the mid 1990’s, Blockhead has his own unique style. This is a huge improvement over his previous effort 2004’s Music by Cave light. While that album sounds like a few gems drowning in a sea of boring mediocrity, these songs are multi-layered arrangements that reward repeated listens. The album starts with “Expiration Date” which uses a simple sample and heaving pounding drums. This is followed by the standout track “Roll Out the Red Carpet” which sounds like an updated science fiction version of Miles Davis. “Cherry Picker” “Good Block, Bad Block” and “Quite Storm” all continue the understated fragmented melodies and add to the album’s cohesiveness. The one exception is “The Art of Walking” where Blockhead takes a light-hearted detour into an homage to 70s funk.

What sets Science apart from a lot of modern day hip hop is Blockhead’s understanding of sped up soul samples. Often times these are used as the focal point of songs and end up making them sound whiny and annoying. In this case though, they are chopped up and pop in and out of the melodies instead of overwhelming them. Blockhead basically treats them like another instrument and this adds to the texture of the songs in a very enjoyable way. This album is probably not for everyone, but it deserves recognition for it’s originality. Fans of Cannibal Ox’s Iron Galaxy and Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus should find it enjoyable. 8/10

-MFUniverse

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