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Pedro - Early Pedro

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Artist: Pedro

Album: Early Pedro

Label: Melodic

Review date: Jul. 13, 2005

”Folk-hop” has to be the lamest genre label to come from the music journalist peanut gallery in recent years. Hamfistedly, it tries to explain the wide-angle lens through which artists like Four Tet and Caribou view hip hop. DJ Shadow illuminates this wide-view better when he calls hip hop an omni-genre, an approach to sonic organization, a method and attitude more than any one defining sound.

Pedro, a.k.a. Manchester-based James Rutledge, currently sits in the shadow of the more well-known practitioners of this melodic hip-hop mutant. Perhaps Early Pedro will help set the historical record straight and show that Rutledge, separately but concurrently, was experimenting with the same strain of beats, acoustic melodies, minimalism and colorful percussion as Four Tet. It comprises Pedro’s three early EPs, 1999’s Pedro, 2001's Chapel was My Dream and the collaboration EP Pedro vs. Kathryn Williams. The original track orders are retained, and the chronology of release is followed, meaning the listener can follow Pedro’s first fumbling steps, his sifting of ideas, and his first inspired moments, because there is a handful of each here.

Fitting Shadow’s omni-genre, the compilation’s 15 tracks extend feelers in multiple directions. Bubbling laptop hip hop appears on “Lay Down Mega Man,” its beat narcoleptic and head-nodding and flute loop snake-charmer exotic, and “Field Angels,” its drippy backdrop of guitar noodlings dragged along by a sultry hi-hat. Fragile, almost sentimental acoustic guitar loops abound on “Akira Theme,” “The Right Way to Play Chess” and “Assembled by #33.” “This Time Last Week” swims in the same pond as Tortoise and Brokeback, the bass wiggling melodically through seaweed clumps of terse guitar melodies. However, many of the pieces, especially the early ones, lean too heavily on samples and loops, which turns the hooks into wallpaper once they make their first few cycles.

Rutledge has said that he’s more interested in exploring 20th century minimalism than any folk musics, and the looped piano layers and tinkling metallophones of “Chapel was My Dream” certainly evoke Reich’s Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (if not outright sampling it). But not until “Blessed is the Savant” does Rutledge really hit his stride. Over a broken click of high frequency percussion and uneven bass drum hits, Rutledge spins a gorgeous web of inverted guitars, tremolo voices, clopping bells and lullaby guitar melodies.

The two collaborations with Kathryn Williams and the collage-like album closer finally show Rutledge speaking with his own voice. It’s a chorus of voices actually, a warm, comfortable place somewhere between the outer space of abstract electronics, the pastures of pure pop and the body blows of hip hop.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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