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Blockhead - The Music Scene

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Artist: Blockhead

Album: The Music Scene

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Feb. 18, 2010

While Blockhead (a.k.a. Tony Simon) is best known for his production work on albums by Aesop Rock, The Music Scene is his third album of hip-hop instrumentals. It’s also unquestionably his best, earning a place alongside some of the great instrumental hip-hop albums I’ve heard.

On this album Blockhead approaches his songs as sound paintings, and in some ways The Music Scene feels like a giant portrait rather than a collection of separate songs. Each has its own personality, but it’s better to take these 12 tracks together. As they pass, they present myriad viewing angles, reflecting the depth and detailed editing present here.

The first minute of "Tricky Turtle" is a good example: amidst the jazzy funk there are switches in percussion, from a hand-clap rhythm to a motion-style raveup. The intense bass work provides the glue that makes the seams feel smooth. "Only Sequences Change" creates perhaps the most filmic montage on an album filled with cinematic imagery. Its beats are infused with everything from dreamy singing, handclaps and soaring strings to middle-eastern woodwinds, plucked guitars, horns and organ.

The most impressive aspect of The Music Scene, in fact, is that the number of sounds and samples used could easily have become a "spot the reference" game. Far from it. Instead, it feels like Blockhead has used every sound for its ability to participate in and assist the story being told. And there are many moments throughout the album when you can’t help but smile and shake your head: the operatic vocal samples towards the end of "Attack the Doctor,” the nearly psychedelic clusters of guitar notes in the title track; the chugging guitar, then propulsive strings that break their way into the final minutes of the last track, "Farewell Spaceman.”

Time will tell how The Music Scene fits into the chronology of found-sound albums, but regardless, we’ve all got a hell of an album to enjoy for now. From the dramatic beat and soulful vocal with which it opens, through the dark riffs of "The Daily Routine" to the last echoed vocal at the album’s end, it’s a terrific ride through a dozen vignettes. It adds up to a hazy, elaborate total that more than rewards repeated listens.

By Mason Jones

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