It’s been over two years since the release of RJD2′s seminal debut, Dead Ringer, and in that time period, the little known Ohio based producer transformed into a well-known Philadelphia based super-producer. Receiving critical acclaim on his debut, as well as follow-up projects that came in the form of The Horror and Soul Position, RJD2′s true moment of truth is Since We Last Spoke, his official sequel to Dead Ringer. Would this album be a worthy sequel to the original (see: The Godfather Part 2) or a lousy follow-up (see: The Godfather Part 3)?
The reactions to SWLS thus far have been mixed. Those looking for another album of rare soul samples re-imagined into powerful instrumental endeavors may be a bit surprised with the direction that RJ took on this album, as this time he delves into his rock crates more than his funk 45′s for inspiration. But rather than comparing SWLS to whatever DJ Shadow and Blockhead are doing at the moment, if heads instead listen to this record as a step forward in the overall evolution of RJ as an artist, there is no disappointment to be found.
Since We Last Spoke is a true sequel to Dead Ringer, as many of the songs mirror it’s predecessor finely, and the use of rock samples saves it from simply being a simple clone of the original. Just as “The Horror” energetically set off Dead Ringer, the title track “Since We Last Spoke” does the same here, with similar inspirational attitude and RJ’s characteristically floaty “oohs” and “ahhs”. Again on “Exotic Talk”, which structurally matches “Ghost Writer”, crashing symbols and heavy gee-tars propel the break down before melting down into mellow moments before climaxing again. And the closer, “One Day”, is a more than worthy follow-up to last album’s secret track, “Here’s What’s Left”. This version’s unknown vocalist once again pours his heart out to some mysterious femme fetale, while RJ uses beautifully rolling pianos and effects on the song’s last line (“I’ve been a foo-o-o-o-o-o-l-l-l-l-l”), which leaves a lasting impression on the listener.
However, while a worthy sequel it may be, RJ does take his sound in new directions, for better or for worse. While his tribute to mustache rock, “Through The Walls” is an arguably yet delightfully cheesy throwback to 80′s acts like Rick Springfield and The Outfield, it does stick out as the album’s only sore thumb. However positively on the rock tip, the more modern “Making Days Longer”, is a hypnotic love ballad which takes a more Radiohead-strong approach with it’s mellow tones and innocently sung lyrics. Another difference this time around is that the lines between what is sampled and what is not are completely blurred. RJ is in top form on “Ring Finger”, as he (most likely unintentionally) reuses a sample already used by like-minded producer The Alchemist (as heard on Twin Gambino’s “Big T.W.I.N.S.”). However, where listeners can really see what RJ adds to a typical rediscovered blues loop is on this track, “Ring Finger”. While Al’s form-fitting interpretation lets Twin Gambino wreck shop over the simple loop, RJ’s takes the loop and builds on top of it with layer upon layer of new sounds. Sultry Spanish guitar licks, plus even more sultry female vocals sung in the language of love, combined with added synth, sinister surf guitar stabs, echoed drum effect breakdowns, and freshly cut “uuhs” and “ahhs” make it nothing short of incredible. You can’t fuck with this!
This type of multi-layered sample abuse takes place throughout much of the album, as heard again on “1976″, where a swank horn section is inserted into RJ’s pot of gumbo and refreaked differently several times every sixteen bars. And the usual RJ moodiness is present throughout much of the album, as found on mellow mid album bridges “Someone’s Second Kiss” and “To All Of You”.
So while disappointment has struck some with Since We Last Spoke, it’s pure satisfaction for this critic (who was actually expecting disappointment with some of the negative pre-release press). The only real disappointment on this release is that it wasn’t longer, and of course the aforementioned “Through The Walls” and the somewhat random “Iced Lightning”, which seemed to go off on too many different tangents. But otherwise, it’s a solid step in the right direction for the budding producer. Only question now is where will RJ take us with his next release??
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