Bonus DVDs, created mostly to stem the tide of file-sharing and promote first-week purchases, generally suck. I can’t name a single one I’ve watched more than once and, if there’s the option, I almost regularly find myself avoiding the extra two or three dollars it usually costs to have the double-disc version. Like every other attempt by record companies to give people a reason to buy a CD, bonus DVDs have failed completely.
Blockhead (a.k.a. Tony Simon) is not the first to include a free DVD with his album, but the bonus disc on his second record in as many years is the best I’ve seen. Along with the usual promo material, the disc includes videos for Blockhead’s 2004 debut, the underrated Music by Cavelight, created by the winners of a Ninja Tune contest. The videos are wonderfully creative, if obviously low-budget, and there are three winners featured on the disc. Which means you get two Blockhead albums for your listening pleasure, the earlier of which is accompanied by noteworthy visuals.
The album itself is a worthwhile addition to any instrumental-hip-hop collection. Perhaps most recognized by his production on the majority of Aesop Rock’s Labor Days and a few tracks on Cage’s well-received Hell’s Winter, Blockhead’s debut was a wonderfully subdued work, merging the atmospherics of Shadow with an art-house jazz aesthetic. Its follow-up, Downtown Science, isn’t a huge progression, but it updates the sound somewhat, and localizes it within the Ninja Tune catalog. There are some Broadcast-style flourishes, such as the playful piano and childish singing on “Cherry Picker.” There’s also a lot of Wagon Christ influence, though this album has a lot of emotion where Wagon Christ’s work has humor.
The music doesn’t hit you over the head with its brilliance, but music like this isn’t meant to stun. It simply carries you from one song to another, exploring sonic spaces and playing within their boundaries. There are a few lesser tracks, like the guitar-heavy “Good Block, Bad Block,” but the successes outnumber them. Blockhead’s work is deceptively simple, and the complexities can reveal themselves only after close listens. Although his work isn’t as richly rewarding in this fashion as Shadow’s nor as playful and continually fascinating as Wagon Christ’s, Blockhead manages to smooth his way into the big leagues of instrumental production with this well-packaged release.
Blockhead on Ninja Tune’s Web site: http://www.ninjatune.net/blockhead/