2AM/FM: Pt. 2

Dabrye: Air (ft. Doom)

James T Cotton: Oochie Coo

Only a few years before his premature passing, I had the pleasure of seeing Tony Williams play at the now-defunct Bermuda Onion in Toronto, an opportunity that profoundly illuminated the difference between experiencing a musician's artistry on record versus witnessing it live. I'll never forget watching the one-time Miles Davis sideman casually seat himself behind the kit and, with no seeming effort, tear into his group's opening tune. No doubt drummers constituted a healthy share of the audience that evening and no doubt every one of them decided immediately that the only reasonable recourse after witnessing such phenomenal ability was to retire immediately.

What, you reasonably ask, does this have to do with Tadd Mullinix? Though the genres are worlds apart, the level of advanced artistry isn't, as Mullinix too leaves pretenders to the throne way behind, regardless of whether he's producing instrumental hip-hop as Dabrye or generating James T Cotton's vertiginous storm of feverish acid. Sure, his genius isn't, like Williams's, rooted in virtuoso command of an instrument but Mullinix nonetheless brings a conception and imagination so advanced to these genres he outstrips the competition. Any evidence needed to support such a bold contention is amply found on three new 12-inch releases on Ghostly and Spectral.

The Dabrye disc first, a two-track teaser for the incredible Two/Three. Like the previous single Game Over (with vocals from Jay Dee aka J Dilla and Phat Kat), “Air” features an MC, in this case MF Doom (of Danger Doom and Madvillain fame). Opening with ominous, even mournful synth lines, the tune spookily unfurls with Daniel Dumile self-reflexively musing upon Dabrye's track itself (“The track was like a thorn in his back”). Is it hip-hop? Of course it is, but of a mesmerizing vintage rarely heard before. Note, however, that the disc includes five variations of the song (album version, instrumental, a cappella, remix, and remix instrumental) rather than multiple cuts from the forthcoming album.

Mullinix's Oochie Coo masterfully perpetuates the future-acid style of The Dancing Box. “Oochie Coo” opens with what sounds like a plane taking off, an apt metaphor for the tune itself and the James T Cotton style in general. A steady stream of handclaps anchors the bubbling beats and acid synths while a disembodied voice mumbles about relationships and assorted other topics. Got to love the double-time hi-hat that creeps in halfway through, jumpstarting a jazzy episode, and the general sense of controlled mayhem that reigns throughout. A steaming dance groove gets “My Zel” off to a straightforward start before layers of intricate gurgle, buckshot handclaps, ringing cymbals, and syncopated snares emerge, pushing the tune to ever-more feverish levels. Bolstering the hypnotic effect, instruments weave in and out of the mix, moving to the forefront and then receding. At disc's end, 2 AM/FM's remix of “T-Y-O-C Painkillers” ups the tribal ante, offsetting the stomping pulse with needle-point string figures and acidy gulps.

Perpetuating the acid sound in a different configuration, Mullinix and D'Marc Cantu reconvene for three tracks on their second 2 AM/FM collaboration. In the opener “Sweatbox,” light-speed voice cut-ups of the song title boost the mood of swirling delirium while ferocious percussive rumbles and patterns chatter over a clapping ground. One might take issue with “Ace of Spades,” not for being a Motorhead cover (it's not) but for exhuming the sound of 2005's damnable 'Crazy Frog' whose croaking burp appears to bleed through the center of the song (thankfully, the sound is almost drowned out by the ammo synth fire and percussive slams that fight for attention). All of which is fine enough but best of all is the disc's crowning glory, the thirteen-minute, polyrhythmic monster “Acid Planes” that jacks relentlessly, a ferocious colossus teeming with handclaps, voice swirls, drum patterns, and scalpel-sharp hi-hats.

May 2006