Heavy Rotation: Byrne’s ‘Hymnal,’ Fehlmann’s Sidetrips, Akrobatik’s Blueprint

What I’ve been most focused on, listening-wise, this past week:

Thomas Fehlmann‘s self-deflatingly titled Visions of Blah (Kompakt) is about half standard-issue, if masterfully textured, techno: all loungey backbeats and gentle grooves. But then there are the surprises, like the churning, gurgling, dastardly noise of “Rainbow Over Stadtautobahn” and the almost embarrassingly lush “Boheme Rouge,” on which layers upon layers of string samples, all as substantial as cotton candy but without a hint of sugar, summon up a cloud of epic proportions (save for density, which approaches zero), just in time for Fehlmann to undercut the elegant ether with an increasingly prevalent series of glitchy interruptions, which changes the whole tenor of the piece. Those two tracks alone are worth the price of entry.

In advance of his Absolute Value (Fat Beats) album, under-appreciated rapper Akrobatic released an eight-song Absolute taster EP — four tracks off the 14-song Absolute Value, along with their underlying instrumentals, each of which is a superb slice of studio-honed funk. Though each of the four are by different producers — “Be Prepared” (9th Wonder), “A to the K” (Illmind), “Put Ya Stamp On It” (the late J Dilla), “Beast Mode” (DJ Fakts One) — they share enough interests to make them work as a whole, including a rigorous emphasis on stripped-bare production and the employment of strings and old-school samples. “A to the K” has the heaviest bass line of the batch, and along with it some moody orchestration out of a blaxploitation epic. “Be Prepared” uses a warped r&b moan as its hook, to fun effect. “Beast Mode” is admirably monocular, just this ominously heavy beat, lightened with a bit of syncopation, a kind of considered response to the momentum of NERD.’s hit “She Wants to Move.” And the true keeper is Dilla’s “Put Ya Stamp On It,” which pushes tightly wound strings, all plucked and sawed, against lickety split drums; if a contemporary music ensemble like So Percussion or Alarm Will Sound were to do a hip-hop covers album, this is what it would sound like.

Former Talking Head lead singer David Byrne is busier than ever — with his musical building in lower Manhattan having just come to a close (davidbyrne.com/art, nymag.com), his full-length collaboration with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, out in stores and online (everythingthathappens.com), a solo tour underway focused on their various past tandem endeavors, and numerous other projects including one of the strongest BbFPs (blogs by famous people) on the Internet (journal.davidbyrne.com). On top of it all — or, given the limited attention it has received, perhaps buried by it all — he also scores the HBO TV series Big Love, for which he was an inspired choice given his fascination with, to borrow the title of one of the cues from Big Love, “Exquisite Whiteness.” Much of the music on Big Love: Hymnal (Todo Mundo) is a sort of pastoral melodrama, appropriate to the show, which focuses on a polygamist family trying to make it in the “real world,” beyond their ancestral compound. There’s stately piano (“Language Confounded”), horn ensembles (“The Breastplate of Righteousness”), his own voice (unmistakable, and heard as a chorus element on various tracks, as well as in full pop-song mode on the closing “Blue Hawaii”), and a healthy amount of xylophones and the like throughout. At times, the score hints at the relative complexity of his old Knee Plays work, but these cues are especially notable for their poise, the varied instrumentation, and a whimsical mix of genre elements. It’s a kind of Middle American exotica

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