Several months back, Blockhead threatened on his MySpace blog that he was working on an album of “happy beats”. Besides his work with Aesop Rock, he’s primarily known for constructing sample based masterpieces like Music By Cavelight and it’s worthy follow-up Downtown Science. Block’s moody beats have become the safe alternative for those still wondering when DJ Shadow would deliver Endtroducing Part 2. So, with his new record, Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book, Block suggests on the album’s liner notes “For all you wondering why this album’s so damn fast, don’t worry, I’ll be back with that depressing shit in no time, but for now, put down your dream journal and dance”. That being said, if Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book is Block’s answer to “happy beats”, he must be one depressed individual.
He’s not, actually, in fact, he’s one of the funniest producers in hip-hop (check his subtle sense of humor on his cable access show with Aesop Rock), but you’d never know it from his beats. So despite what he might think in his Block-shaped-Head, there’s nothing too happy about the material found on this record. The main difference here is that the songs’ drum beats are faster, guitars are more New Wave oriented, and the songs are maybe only danceable in a She Wants Revenge sort of way. So yeah, total pity party.
The album opens up with “Coloring Book”, where an eerie voice of the past sings “For those that fancy coloring books, and lots of people do, here’s a new one for you….”. Block builds an entire soundscape around this sample, adding in layers of sounds, keys, and drums on top of it, concocting a beautiful introductory track.
Truth be told, Block’s more up-tempo selections on the album are more moving than his trademark cave-lit shit, but his knack for employing melancholy sounds keeps things dreamy. So while the drums of “The Strain” might keep your foot tapping, the layers of relaxing sounds take you above the clouds. The same can be said for “Put Down Your Dream Journal and Dance”, or “Duke of Hazzard” (which is the most aggressive thing on here) speeding by at above 120 beats-per-minute with b-boy tailored drums, but again, he somehow manages to make things still sound totally chilled out.
Block has improved considerably as a producer since “Downtown Science”, which now seems like a mere stepping stone in comparison to this record. Case in point is “The Hucklebuck Slice”, which takes a simple four bar horn loop from what sounds like a Hitchcock-era film, and doesn’t stop building on top of it for the song’s entirety, creating a hypnotic pattern of sounds. Another moment of brilliance is found on the brooding “Do The Tron”, again piling those samples on thick, in perhaps the album’s only exercise in traditional, sultry Blockhead bedroom music. Finally, “Trailer Love” plays like an awesome, poor white trash version of RJD2’s “Here’s What’s Left”, as Block takes the most heartfelt, good ol’ boy rock vocals he could find, chipmunks them, and turns it into another melancholic lonely walk on the beach. Yeah, real happy beats you got here, Block. This one had us all drunk in the office and crying on each other’s shoulders before noon. On Christmas.
But, we can only chalk it up to his misunderstood genius. Cut the drum measures in half, and you’ve got another album in the same vein as his others, but the addition of more uptempo tracks and live instrumentation separates it from both of them. Blockhead may have always been respected as a producer, but Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book shows continued improvement and unparalleled range as an instrumentalist. – Pizzo
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