It happened to me about two months before Ellison arrived. I started looking at my entire music collection for things that might need to be retired for a while. You know, that stuff that she might not need to hear until maybe ten years old or so. Some other stuff, maybe never. But you’re also looking for those gems in your collection that might make perfect recordings for a newborn. Kinda like repurposing an old trunk into a coffee table. Like recordings that, over the course of say five years or so, they get a little dusty, but then all of the sudden it’s like they’re reborn. They have a new reason for living. Blockhead is one of those artists and these four recordings, representing his entire catalog as a solo artists, are perfect examples of such a phenomenon.
After working with wordy and sometimes foul-mouthed emcees for well over half a decade, in 2004, Ninja Tune signed up Blockhead as the latest movement by the otherwise-electro label to seize the surging instrumental hip hop market. Blockhead had quietly climbed onto the scene by way of his continued work as the preferred producer of indie superhero emcee Aesop Rock and by the time he was readying his first solo outing, he had a resume that rivaled what most producers aspired to achieve over the course of a career yet he was still largely unknown.
2004’s Music By Cavelight (Ninja Tune) was an unassuming, dark and masterfully somber collection. Even the 100 BPM numbers sounded melancholic. His ability to create from scratch a compelling and dense soundscape appeared to be his greatest strength. All those accolades and the praises of every stoner, college art student and backpacker doesn’t really matter. This man made one of the greatest lullaby records ever. Music By Cavelight is the perfect morning cup of coffee album. It’s the perfect 10:30PM muse. It’s the music of a chilly winter jog. And it’s the perfect Sandman for little Baby Ellison. Take Beth Gibbons out of Portishead and replace her with Erick Sermon and you have Music By Cavelight.
Downtown Science is more jump and bump than Cavelight, but still maintains the lo-pro and humble sensitivity. It reluctantly rocks, comfortably rolls and altogether effortlessly oozes greatness. It doesn’t develop on Cavelight, but rather just continues where it left off. Throw this and Cavelight in a carousel and you just bought yourself easily two hours of nap time and not without the snooze of listening to those drivelous and disgustingly boring lullaby collections someone picks up for you at Wal-Mart as a throw-in on a shower gift. The reality is that Blockhead’s compositions are the ideal compromise between a REM sleep and one nasty getdown. If Music was morning, Downtown is the bustle of the mid-morning metropolis. But it is still drifts by a gentle tempo and takes the long route back to work.
The third record in Blockhead’s arsenal is 2007’s Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book. It finds Blockhead working with much crisper soundscapes where the slow development of his previous compositions are truncated and driven by more up-tempo rhythms. Coloring Book carries itself much more like a straightforward hip hop record than his previous offerings. I’ve always denounced the term “trip hop” or even “instrumental hip hop.” It’s possible that what Blockhead does is simply hip hop. Like Coltrane didn’t make “saxophone jazz” and Thelonious didn’t make “piano jazz.” It’s just jazz. Aptly titled, Coloring Book is like an episode of Romper Room. While at times it’s like recess where kids play four-square or kickball, other moments are as tender and dearly hypnotic like thirty minute nap time. It’s possibly one of the most well-rounded hip hop records for young’uns without misrepresenting or pimping the culture. It pays homage to the culture. Great piece of work.
If any one single recording of Blockhead’s could hinge on something other than hip hop, it would be 2010’s The Music Scene where Block ventures to places rarely visited previously. It’s a beautiful and lush work that pulls together much stronger influences from soul music, world beat, funk and synth-laden electro music. It’s spectrum of sounds collides brilliantly and while kaleidoscopic it’s never distractive. It’s cohesive and fantastically inspiring. Amazing that most hip hop producers wouldn’t know how to make one interesting three-minute emcee-less composition and Blockhead accomplishes entire albums of this stuff without sounding forced or contrived. It just comes natural to this cat.
If Ninja Tune knew what they were doing (which, actually, I never really question whether or not they do), they’d release all four of these as a $24.98 box set and call it Blockhead’s Music for Babies and they’d sell the crap out of them. I’m rating them all as one continuous composition and, without a doubt for the kiddies, I can’t give it anything less than four and a half Dirties. These make the perfect listening for a kid on the come-up. Watch your levels though, Blockhead uses more bass than most kid’s music out in the marketplace so if you don’t want your child going deaf before the age of four, turn down the bass a hair.