Here’s one for the meta-fetishists: Shoes, a DJ-specific label known for its remixes and re-edits of classic soul and jazz joints, tries to release a megamix of overlooked funk and soul from the Numero reissue label without the latter label’s permission. Numero catches wind and decides to put the kibosh on the pressing. However, Numero is also intrigued by the quality of Shoes’s work. So instead of issuing a passe cease-and-desist, Numero takes a different approach: The label takes the original plates from the pressing plant and uses them to issue the release “officially.” On top of this, Numero designs a charmingly referential cover to acknowledge the release’s place in a long lineage of uncleared releases, specifically the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series of the ’80s and ’90s. Yep, the hip-hop Eddie the Head is back, with his imitation Wild Style lettering in tow.
While record enthusiasts may be tickled by this latest shred of cocktail chatter, the record itself stands on its own merits. Eccentric Breaks And Beats is essentially two long tracks of (roughly) 20-minute blends. Instead of going for density a la the Avalanches or the Bomb Squad, the Shoes crew uses what sounds like a handful of choice samples from Numero’s catalog and reworks them endlessly with loops, echoes and the occasional screwing. Bits of speechifying often punctuate and divide the mostly instrumental “tracks” within each of the blends (all of which have been renamed with memorable titles like “Which Jesus Am I,” “John Goodman Is Too Cool To Cry” and “Shit…”), but each track blends seamlessly into another.
Numero being a decidedly funk-heavy label, Shoes unsurprisingly zeroes in on a few choice breaks to keep up the momentum, such as the wah-heavy “Not Ready For School” and the harp-laden “Cosmic Clock.” However, Shoes’ harmony-heavy production style, which often focuses on specific chords, progressions or riffs within a song, is the true highlight; guitar, key or vibe punctuations are pulled out and splattered infinitely, such as on the sunny “Saving Mr. Billy’s Soul.” Whereas in the past Shoes reworked well-known, break-heavy songs by Bob James and James Brown with a light hand, Eccentric Breaks And Beats is ironically a creative breakthrough as the crew finds new songs by rigorously exploring snippets of sound.
The only confusing element to this project is the lack of citation about which tracks from Numero’s catalog were used. While obfuscating the source material in a comic way stays consistent with the old-school DJ culture and bootlegging legacy being referenced here, it also seems unusual for Numero. The label has worked tirelessly to track down original artists to ensure ethical and legal usage rights. And Numero itself says it has dealt with artists like Madlib and RJD2, who have sampled their material without notice. Why the sampled artists are not more clearly highlighted here is unclear. Those familiar with the label’s output can pick out individual samples, like the Four Mints’ “Row My Boat” in the opening strains of “Saving Mr. Billy’s Soul,” but the label has over 70 releases so a little more explicit guidance would have been welcome.
That said, Eccentric Beats and Breaks, much like the recent Matthew Larkin Cassell case, deserves oodles of ovation for avoiding another potentially litigious situation. Thank you, Shoes and Numero, for being so adult about the matter.