Thursday, January 13, 2005

Pop Matters review of Tao Of Yo

"This album is a remarkable audio journey that begs for a change of consciousness, both on the creative and political forefront." Sounds elegant, articulate, intelligent, intriguing and considered, doesn't it? Possibly the work of some intellectual, jazz loving Japanese siblings who have decided to contextualise their virtuoso musicianship by using samplers to interpolate the opinions and theories of people from all over the globe concerning the zeitgeist and the advantages and drawbacks of our contemporary forms of expression. And it's coming out on Thirsty Ear because, well, you know -- they're big on the whole groundbreaking, boundary-pushing weird jazz front. It'll probably be multi-layered and rewarding, and contain moments of striking beauty alongside movements where the musicians will apparently be attempting to murder their instruments at differing, random tempos over a catatonia-inducing bass line. Matthew Shipp, that workaholic keyboard whiz, will be involved somehow; he'll probably have met them whilst collaborating with some obscure alt-rap group based in Kyoto . . .

And so on, yes, but nope, as David Foster Wallace might say if slightly inebriated. Ignoring the habitually overblown, hyperbolic press description, this second album by the hands of guitarist Vernon Reid and dark, menacing modern jazz composer/turntablist DJ Logic still feels rough, unfinished, and slightly hapless, as if thrown together in a hurry and then put out with a grudging frown. Knowing that the record "was completed while DJ Logic was busy in the labs with his highly anticipated third album" does nothing to dispel the impression that this is a collection of tracks the two messed around with, in the studio with some friends, and then decided -- with a shrug -- to publish: a misshapen vanity project by somebody whose ego wasn't quite big enough to prevent them from getting bored with the idea themselves.

What this results in is a 13-track-long mishmash of styles based around Reid's playing guitar (from Spanish fret work and strumming to full blown, Slash-lying-drunk-in-a-gutter dirty histrionics) over Logic's habitually bruising, bare beats and sample collages, with some obligatory scratching thrown in. And then there are the guests, who are many, varied, mostly unknown, and who feature on every single track -- which, as I need hardly point out, doesn't really create an impression of considered cohesion. Around a third of the tracks are two-minutes long or shorter, "Shape 1" and "Shape 4" being little more than slightly differing juxtapositions of some strumming, a few background samples, and what might be irregular tap-dancing. Ok, so it's a good thing they weren't any longer, but why put them on at all? Having nothing to say is hardly creative or political, and there's certainly nothing new about incorporating found sounds.

Also on offer are the strange afrobeat/electroclash of opener "Shine For Me", with its underproduced female refrain of "thumbelina lip service wonton", the varying tempo nu-metal dirge of instrumental "The Secret Frequency", and the guitar-solos-over-frenzied-breakbeats/drumming of the Praxis-like "Unimportance", none of which are especially diverting. Better are the tracks with MCs, whether Traz making good for more annoying female vocals over the massive bass surges of "More From Life" ("In 2000 my hood tried to rock the vote / Only to see the president we elected / Get rejected / They say I'm wrong / For trying to sell this dope / But if Micky D's ain't hiring / Then why the f*ck should I still hope? It's like they purposefully force us to put a rope / Around our throats: / To them / Economic equality's just a joke"); Taylor Mcferrin deconstructing the psychology of the relationship between familiar newsreader and audience on "Anchor"; and Bos Omega, whose surreal, angry imagery and Mike Ladd-evoking voice elevate the brash, obvious riffs of "TV" slightly. Best of all is "No Pistolas", with India.Arie guitarist Ricky Quinones, that comes off like Marc Anthony attempting reggae, backed by a massive bass pulse, handclaps, and a satisfyingly OTT guitar wig-out from Reid; again it's a bit of a mess, but being slightly shambolic never hurt reggae, and it ends up just being colourfully odd.

If anything, I have less idea now what "the tao of yo" is meant to be than before I heard this record. I suspect that they just thought it was a smart title, and don't have any real idea, either. It shows.

— 15 October 2004

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