Don’t let the name or the sound or the liner notes fool you: This is not an actual band. For those who haven’t followed his work over the years, Yesterday’s New Quintet is the brainchild of super-producer Madlib, a.k.a. Otis Jackson Jr., a.k.a. [insert page-long list of pseudonyms/alter egos/aliases here]. Sound Directions: The Funky Side of Life is his fourth album as Yesterday’s New Quintet (in the world of Madlib, Sound Directions is an offshoot of Yesterday’s New Quintet), and this time around he brings a more lively sound than he did on previous efforts. Unlike 2001’s Angles Without Edges, which he completely banged out on his sampler, Madlib brought in session musicians (some of whom have worked with Macy Gray and the funk band Breakestra) to give The Funky Side of Life a more authentic sound. But even with the improved musicianship and Madlib’s virtuoso mind at work, the album lacks a dynamic sound that can keep listeners’ attention.
The Funky Side of Life consists of a mix of original material as well as covers of ’60s and ’70s soul, funk and jazz. With his original compositions, such as “Dice Game,” Madlib comes with his trademark off-kilter sound, and on “The Funky Side of Life” he brings in renowned British funk drummer Malcolm Catto. Catto does not disappoint, with his contribution providing one of the highlights of this album.
The album contains laudable covers originally written by high-profile movie composers David Axelrod and J.J. Johnson with “A Divine Image” and “One For J.J. (Johnson),” respectively. Part of the problem of covering songs written for movies is that they aren’t meant to stand alone. Outside of the movie context they come off as a bit dull, despite Madlib’s best efforts to liven them up. However, his interpretations of Oliver Sain’s “On the Hill” and Cliff Nobles’s “The Horse,” with their lush and varied arrangement, prove to be the class of the album. These songs remind listeners why Madlib is one of the best producers in the business.
But the album never really moves beyond anything more than an enjoyable listen – great background music. The flaws are noticeable, and many of the songs, such as “Play Car,” seem to end just as they begin to pick up steam (the album is only thirty-two-minutes long). The Funky Side of Life is far from a disappointment, but in the end it fails to set itself apart.
Prefix review: Jaylib [Champion Sound] by Jeffrey Constantineau