Tonio Rubio – “Bass In Action No. 1” (1973)
Sound library music doesn’t get any more stone cold than this track. Music of any kind rarely does. What should have been a cornerstone of golden-age hip-hop, “Bass In Action No. 1” is an incredible audio stroll consisting of sweet glistening electric piano glissandi, an ice cold single-note bass line, and the ready-made laid-back hip-hop breakbeat. It’s enchanting for the first minute; but when the beat kicks in at 1:05, you won’t be able to keep from grinning. [Tonio Rubio is featured in on an equally groove-laden mix of tunes from around the world at Musicophilia.] Update: Corrected the streaming link.
Mr. Partridge – “The Day They Pulled The North Pole Down” (1980)
“Mr. Partridge” is Andy Partridge of XTC, but this solo-ish work isn’t the singer-songwriter-perfect-pop you might expect from later years. This track comes from one of the attempts Partridge made at dub/remix work in the early, more post-punk phase of the band’s career, sampling elements songs from the first three albums. The results are unique in the band’s oeuvre, and are underrated and wonderfully weird. [My other favorite track from early solo Partridge, though not a sample-based piece, can be heard as part of this beat/dance-oriented set at Musicophilia.]
This Heat – “Repeat” (1979)
Few one-off experiments are more exciting than This Heat’s “24-Track Loop”. This Heat were an expansive band, but at some level were generally identifiable as a “post-punk” or “rock” act; “24-Track Loop” defied genre at its time, sounding little like any established repetition-based dance or electronic music of the time, though drawing from dub and musique concrete methodology. “Repeat” is an extended mix of the seminal track, allowing each phrase to burrow into the listener’s consciousness before new qualities are slowly introduced; it’s no less stunning than its briefer counterpart.
Digable Planets – “Black Ego” (1994)
I hope by now it’s common knowledge that Digable Planets weren’t the hip-hop-hippies their “one-hit-wonder” single made them seem. Like the best trip-hop, their mellowness (especially on their second album, ‘Blowout Comb’) fronted a complex blend of emotions, telling stories of the personal-as-political and the political-as-personal. Plus, with their Modern Jazz Quartet-like approach to vibes-and-strings and their judicious beat-borrowing (here the eternal Zigaboo), they made hip hop sound as good as their best new-school contemporaries. They tapped a deep well, and another fifteen years on, it’s far from dry.
Pinch – “Brighter Day” (Instrumental) [AKA “Qawwali”] (2006)
I’m not well versed in British electronic music between the early 90s and the present day, so when I hear “dubstep” I hear the dub more than the step. This spare, spacious cavern of a track fits right in with its dub roots; or the work of Pole or Deadbeat and their insectoid, deconstructed dub; some imaginary reduced-fat Timbaland; or even something like post-punkers Grey or Shriekback or early Front 242. I love well-used space in a mix, and this instrumental version uses it deftly, and achieves a stillness-through-motion that echoes the Qawwali music from which it ostensibly draws inspiration.
Jaylib (J Dilla & Madlib) – “Raw Shit” (2003)
Nothing touches ‘Donuts‘ for me. But even though I’m not a huge Madlib fan, I’ve come around to the “Jaylib” collaborations between he and Dilla. This track has a little of the feeling of both, succinctly capturing the chopped playfulness of J Dilla, and bounces along confidently with a catchy vocal hook (featuring Talib Kweli sounding as good as I’ve heard him) and a great organ sample. [J Dilla is featured here and here in very different contexts at Musicophilia.]
Jean-Jacques Perrey – E.V.A. (1970)
I love Pierre Henry, but I prefer his “serious” work to his most famous track, “Psyche Rock”. “E.V.A.” is sort of an alternative to “Psyche,” blending similar early sci-fi pop electronics with a funky backbeat and even the large bell accompaniment–but I’d have to say, I like Perrey’s take better, since this sort of electronics-popularising was his main thing. Sampled regularly and with good reason, “E.V.A.” is as cool today as forty years ago.
Franco Battiato – “Meccanica” (1972)
‘Fetus’ was undoubtedly a horizon-expanding discovery for me, adding another layer to my understanding of the roots of synth-based music, outre, proto-punk, etc. Battiato would go on to do much more abstract music, following a trajectory not that unlike Eno, until he entered the center of the Italian mainstream in the 80s. This early stuff is a great headtrip of early electronics, off-kilter pop-rock songwriting, borrowed/sampled sources, and what I take to be sort of sci-fi lyrics (from what I can gather via Italian-English cognates). [I’ve not used the album’s cover because some might find it disturbing; it does seem slightly shock-value unecessary to me and is not representative of the fun music contained within. Franco Battiato is featured from this period here and in a later form here in mixes at Musicophilia.]
With its James Brown-based beat and Tracey Thorn (Everything But the Girl and post-punk tweesters Marine Girls) vocals, though it’s dated slightly, this track is still a winner. For me, though, its impact is heightened greatly by this technically unbelievable single-shot, single-take Michel Gondry video, one of the first videos I ever remember finding simply enthralling. Typical of Gondry when given emotionally meaningful material, his faux-lo-tech wizardry transcends the technical fascination and comes to reflect its subject matter in a way more honest and accurate than any more straightforward presentation ever could. UPDATE: Argh, embedding disabled for whatever reason, so a link instead–worth your while.
9th Scientist – “Do You Love Me?” (2004)
9th Scientist is carrying the torch strong for those who love mid-school sample-based hip-hop, but he’s not living in a DA.I.S.Y. retro world. He takes it Southern slow (Atlanta, not Houston or New Orleans), with an unhurried delivery, and for him “consciousness” is not an aesthetic, but a life’s pursuit. Musically his strongest suite is production, where he’ll appeal to fans of Dilla, with simply utilized, unpolished soul/funk loops. This track uses a perfect sample, sounding almost like a heartbeat echoing the intensity of an ode to a lifelong (possibly estranged) friend. Check him out here, pick up a new album here.
Steinski & Double Dee – “Lesson No. 1: The Payoff Mix” (1983)
This track is embedded in the trajectory of contemporary culture, just as much as it (and its sequels) drew from mass culture through ’83. But besides all that “importance” bit–it’s just a great listen for those who dig electro, early hip-hop, and cultural sampling in general. Reissued in 2008 on the compendium ‘What Does It All Mean? 1983-2008 Retrospective,’ it’s a good thing this stuff is now quasi-legitimately available. UPDATE: New stream link.