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Yesterday's New Quintet - Stevie

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Artist: Yesterday's New Quintet

Album: Stevie

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Aug. 1, 2004

I wonder when Madlib blocks off time to eat. Surely he needs something to cushion his guts from the amphetamines, as sleep is out of the question.

Madlib’s whimsical production has been key to every stage of Stones Throw’s fascinating, defiantly money-losing 7” series. He’s appeared across the modern funk spectrum, under a small city of personae, often with “side projects” that exist as little more than inside jokes.

Yesterday’s New Quintet is one such flight of downtempo fancy. It’s basically an imaginary wedding band that, in lieu of a sauced lead singer tripping over Sinatra lyrics, features a keyboard that flails and pratfalls as if it houses Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s soul.

Stevie filters a strong selection of Stevie Wonder’s mid-period material through said kaleidoscope. Erstwhile pop charthogs (“Superstition,” “Superwoman”) translate as gentle, shuffling generalizations. The rhythm section never quite holds together, and the keys couldn’t give a late-night fuck. “Rocket Love Pt. 1” comes off like a euphoric jungle track slowed to half-speed and dubbed over an old lite jazz cassette. Several numbers, such as “Send One Your Love,” don’t seem to follow a predetermined plan. One minute you’ve got an irony-tainted Quiet Storm brewing, and then a rickety beat hails down outta nowhere.

When the tempo picks up to a finger-snapping clip, as on “That Girl,” the 88s fall so far behind that they almost pick up again on the next bounce. It’s the sort of cubist funk usually reserved for thrillingly incompetent karaoke. It’s what YNQ does.

Stevie sounds less like a tribute than a series of notes desperately scribbled after awakening from a dream about Wonder’s music.

Perhaps Madlib stays so busy by having so much fun. It’s hard to imagine getting as much enjoyment spinning Stevie as he clearly got from making it, but that leaves a lot of space open. Whatever he’s smoking that causes him to hear Wonder the way he does, I’d like to buy some.

By Emerson Dameron

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