Hearing Stones Throw go to so much trouble to pretend that DJ Rels
is a real person is a lot like the Republicans who still say that
Saddam and Osama were scheduled to play golf together on September 12,
2001. If you keep saying it enough, someone is destined to believe you.
Calling Rels “desert-dwelling” on the Web site, I was waiting for a
fake press release detailing his work with Joshua trees and exploring
his pudding obsession. But instead I got a burned copy of the new album
in a cardboard slipcase with only the track listing and a credit to the
executive producer. So fuck ’em, let me give the ending away right now:
Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, the planet of the apes is Earth,
and DJ Rels is Madlib.
That being said, Rels’s music is not Madlib’s music. Theme For a Broken Soul – and the DJ Rels project in general – seems to be one of two things:
a) one of Stones Throw’s most important artists trying something
different to expand his musical palette, or b) one of Stones Throw’s
most important artists trying something different to expand his label’s
musical palette. Good music from a genre attracts other good music –
is this just Stones Throw’s attempt to jump into dance music?
You and I both know that isn’t a question I’m here to answer,
so I’m done with all the hype. How does Madlib’s progressive (both as a
genre and a musical trend – that’s right, a pun) new sound hold up?
The results, for the most part, are a mixed bag. The buzzy bass of
opener “Don’t U Know?” (I’m Madlib, get it?) mixes with a nonstop break
beat to demonstrate what might be the album’s most hip-hop-influenced
track. That is, until the synths come in and we’re all awash in deep
Similar results can be found on the nine-minute “Broken
Soul/Dawn” and “The Doo (Do It)” (tell them I’m Madlib. Alright, I’ll
stop). The tribal drum beat goes strong throughout the album. It
maintains a world-music feel mixed with enough improvisational humor
and “what’s that?” sounds that always go over well on the dance floor.
But too much of the former and not enough of the latter can become
deadly during sit-down listens; for every “Moonride,” blessed with
brilliant break beats and scratching and squeaking clicks and whirrs,
there’s a “Waves,” with trance-like mainstream dance rearing its ugly
head a little too far.
Nothing on the album measures up to “Diggin’ in Brownswood” and “Song
For My Lady,” released on earlier twelve-inch singles and thankfully
included here. But that those two songs demonstrated their superiority
by standing alone says a lot. Five minutes of this music can be an
original and entertaining journey (particularly, I would imagine, when
used as a deejay tool). An hour of it becomes monotonous, and even
“Diggin’ in Brownswood,” Theme‘s last track, ends up sounding the same.
Madlib often succeeds as DJ Rels, and he should be applauded
for even trying to go in such a different direction. But save the
applause for when you’re on the dance floor. Personally, I’m staying
home and putting on Madvilliany.