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5 October, 2004@12:00 am

    After releasing the most popular album of his career (a collaboration with MF Doom entitled Madvillainy), you would think that Madlib take advantage of his notoriety and high reputation by doing whatever he could to blow up. But as he consistently does with music, Madlib decided to forgo conventions. Since the Madvillain album popped off, Madlib has put out three full-length records under two different pseudonyms. The first release was an instrumental tribute to Stevie Wonder that, while well-intentioned, didn’t really do justice to Stevie’s music. The second was a tribute to the late jazz musician Weldon Irvine which was an extremely experimental record that was rather difficult to listen to. And Madlib’s latest release is a downtempo album called Theme For A Broken Soul, and it is being released under a brand new pseudonym DJ Rels (aka Madlib) .

     The music on this album is a sort that would never really be called hip-hop. An appropriate name for the style would be “intelligent house music,” and it can be lumped in with artists like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. Theme For A Broken Soul comprises of hypnotic, fast grooves that would be appropriate music for a trendy downtown lounge. For that reason, it is difficult to find much to say about Theme For A Broken Soul, positive or negative. The music on this album is never particularly bad, but at the same time, it doesn’t really keep a listener’s attention very well. For the majority of the tracks, it seems as though the music on this album is meant to be in the background.

      The record starts out with its two strongest tracks, “Don’t U Know” and the sublime “Sunrise.” The tracks are very well composed, with strong beats and catchy melodic samples. The drum tracks in particular are very interesting, with great grooves and unusual tonalities. But later in the album, you have tracks such as “Sao Paolo” and “Eclipse Pt. 1 & 2″ that simply don’t sound as good. In fact, a few songs on this record, including the aforementioned two, sound as though they were artificially sped up, and that just doesn’t make for good listening.

    It is kind of amazing that despite all his creativity and experimentation, Madlib has actually released three lackluster albums this year, (but in a sense that sort of balances out the classic Madvillain LP). Theme For A Broken Soul is an alright album, but the music-listening world should never be satisfied with buying albums that are just alright. This DJ Rels album, while never particularly offensive, is monotonous (most of its songs being in one narrow tempo range) and overall uninteresting. Madlib could have done a lot better than this album.

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