Music By Cavelight
aybe I’m not listening to this in the right context. Maybe I would enjoy Music by Cavelight, the first record by Aesop Rock/Def Jux producer Blockhead, more if I listened to it in a small, dimly lit room with my body hunched over a mixer and some oversized headphones strapped to my dome.
The title itself, Music by Cavelight, hints at a claustrophobic, lightless workplace and the music is closer kin to the dark mid-90s trip-hop of Portishead and the smoother production by Matmos on Bjork’s Vespertine than to most instrumental hip-hop albums. But of course, Blockhead is a hip-hop producer, so there are heavy, head-bobbing beats layered over it all.
Blockhead is a talented producer, if a somewhat simple one. He has responded to criticisms that he is “amateurish” by listing his equipment as nothing more than a record player, a sampler and a CD burner. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does give the record an uncomplicated aura to it; the sounds are anything but bombastic, rather, they mostly sway in the background.
The biggest problem with the album is that most of the tracks feel like there should be a rap over them. RJD2’s Deadringer bucked this by compiling the record with songs obviously tailored to stand alone without rhymes placed right next to songs perfectly suited for vocals. While I’m sure Blockhead’s motive was to show that he can stand alone without Aesop’s verbose raps, it’s just difficult to not hold your breath throughout the album, waiting for a smooth rhyme to flow over the similarly smooth production.
Blockhead is famous for his dark beats. So it’s no surprise that the best tracks on Music by Cavelight are those in that vein. The incongruously named “Bullfight in Paris” sounds nothing like what one would infer from the title, besides a bit of flamenco-like guitar work by Damien Paris, but instead would fit perfectly with the sewer scene in the Dawn of the Dead remake.
Surprisingly (and sadly), though, one of the best tracks is only available on the limited bonus disc containing five Aesop Rock instrumentals. The instrumental for “Forest Crunk” (mislabeled as “Babies with Guns”) showcases Blockhead’s signature dark production at its finest. Over a rapid-fire break-beat is the creepiest piano line since DJ U-Neek’s work on E 1999 Eternal.
If Blockhead’s aim was to create a record of largely understated, dark instrumentals, he has succeeded. But please, take the mixers away from Aesop and go back to producing for him.
Reviewed by: Gentry Boeckel
Reviewed on: 2004-04-22