Those who listen to The Hollywood Recordings will likely fall into two groups. The first comprises fans who have heard (and probably own) everything that the Los Angeles-based trio has put out. That hard-to-find Dark Matter and Pornography mixtape? They have it. The vinyl-only ABB Soul single? They have that, too. For this group, most of the album will be nothing new; half the album exists in some other form on releases dating back to 2004. But the second group will be those people who have heard nothing, or at most a song. For them, the spaced-out sound of Sa-Ra, which has made it a point to take the road less traveled, will be an experience. Contrary to some opinions, there is a method to Sa-Ra’s collective madness. The trio is like a musical Wes Anderson: Both put concept before execution and sacrifice little in the way of style. And like Anderson, this ambition and imagination give The Hollywood Recordings charm, even if it has its flaws.
“Glorious” and “Hey Love” may not be the most accessible introduction into the Sa-Ra sound, but they are certainly the best representation. Glitchy and off-kilter, these songs flirt in the gray area between pop and avant-garde, and they only sound better with time. “So Special” may be more conventional, but it still preserves the stylistic elements that make Sa-Ra who they are without completely alienating listeners. Rozzi Dame lends her vocals to the syrupy-sweet track, which evokes both the sounds of 1970 and 2010.
Where the album stumbles is in its collaborations and guest appearances. The tracks themselves, which call on the services of Talib Kweli, Capone-N-Noreaga, Kurupt, Erykah Badu and Georgia Anne Muldrow, are quite good. The problem is that they fail to match the vibe of Sa-Ra’s solo tracks. “Not on Our Level,” featuring CNN, is especially indicative of this disjointedness. Everything is cleaner and safer and made with another artist in mind; it sounds like Sa-Ra spliced two different albums together.
Obviously, there is a reason why The Hollywood Recordings is called a prequel; it is a collection of older tracks and marketing-friendly collaborations to hold fans over until the trio’s major-label debut, Black Fuzz, sees the light of day (Good Music, the label that was to release the album, has since folded). But even then, most of this still sounds fresher than what’s out there, making this a solid introduction for those new to Sa-Ra.