Exile may have outdone himself with his 2009 album, Radio. While on tour the Los Angeles-based producer stumbled onto the concept of plugging a sampler into a car stereo, which inspired him to create an entire head-nodding quilt based on samples of local AM/FM radio. The resulting music remained a perfect complement to his past work — beats that sat between the fractured stutter of Madlib and J Dilla and the syncopated smoothness of SA-RA — while exploring a new source (by hip-hop standards) of found sounds. The album itself was a funky, enjoyable listen, but the concept and process was exceptional. So, revisiting the album by returning to a traditional remix admittedly feels like a less original concept.
The resulting record, AM/FM, rises to the challenge on the strength of a talented and appropriate group of remixers. Brothers-in-stutter-step-arms like Shafiq Husayn, Samiyam, Milo1 and long-time friends like Aloe Blacc and Blu contribute pieces that complement the original’s funky feel. In fact, most of the record builds on the radio concept by adopting the mix and feel of scrolling through an analog radio. There are intersecting and unrelated sound fragments (the “Across The Universe” and vocal bits scattered throughout Husayn’s “It’s Coming Down”) that fade in and out like distant broadcasts. Milo1’s “In Love” starts with the listener literally losing her/his attention and switching the dial several rotations through smooth jazz and a Spanish-speaking broadcaster before settling on a smoother beat. The listener apparently continues to feel restless as the subsequent beats/stations change every two to three minutes before settling on the floating P.U.D.G.E. remix of “So We Can Move.” In this manner, AM/FM adopts the constant yet inconsistent aural din of analog radio.
The main difference — and a detriment to AM/FM simply because it has to be held to the standard of another record — is that 21 different productions make for less cohesion than one artist arranging 21 songs. In fact, AM/FM is structured more like a mainstream hip-hop album by having numerous, fragmented parts. Each part plays a specific role, but it does not necessarily make for a better whole. There is the single “Your Summer Song,” which features singer J. Mitchell tip-toeing gently over a soft shoe drum track. There is the posse track with Evidence, Krondon and Blame One transforming the unusual “We’re All In Power” into a familiar brand of undie blap. And Blu adds some verses mixtape-style to an otherwise untouched “Love Line.” The concept and the individual parts make AM/FM a pleasant listen. However, the whole is not significantly better than Radio. Rather, it is a welcome accompaniment.
Postscipt: Exile’s blackbook runs deep, so unsurprisingly he received more remixes than he could use. A number of those unused remixes have been compiled as a bonus “disc” and are available for free download via Bandcamp here. Contributors include Rhettmatic, Marco Polo, Von Pea and many others.