The art of the bedroom producer has become one of the more interesting developments in underground music in the midst of a technological revolution. Certainly, mash-ups (a sub-movement of the bedroom producer era) require a certain amount of resourcefulness. By combining samples from disparate sources and forming a cohesive whole from two disjointed halves, these producers form a melting pot of found sound. Often the result is a recontextualization of each separate ingredient. A proper mash-up, remix, or cover of any kind is at its best when it makes you forget about the original.
New Jersey’s 100db’s has watched a flood of Jay-Z mash-up attempts flood the Internet and the obvious ensuing backlash and continued to create his Argyle Album, an eclectic collection of diverse patchwork that succeeds largely on the audacity of the source material and the deft skill of its creator. To call it just a mash-up is insulting—consider this more a showcase for a burgeoning young producer. There’s more going on here than vocal sample + instrumental sample = fin. Original compositions share space with immediately recognizable favorites, and the album as such acts more like a Top 5 from the lips of some Cusack-esque intellectual. It’s immediate from a simple glance at most of these other wretched affairs that a degree of kitsch is involved.
The Argyle Album plays more like a music-lover’s dream mix and the samples are more attentively deliberated over. “Allure” (mp3), which sheds Radiohead’s “Kid A” in a playful light, represents the utility in music today–really, Thom Yorke and Sean Carter aren’t as far apart as they seem. The album’s closer, “My First Song” (mp3), is an inspired piece of bubbling blues energy with a whiplash rhythm section, steeping Jay-Z in Delta watering-hole flavor which is oddly provided by The Zombies’ “I Want You Back Again.”
A few of the pieces work less effectively–100db’s should have taken a cue from Danger Mouse’s interpretation of “99 Problems,” as the slow, bouncy pace employed begets the song’s original fire. Likewise, “Change Clothes” (mp3) unsheathes as background music for the old Mario Bros. video game and lacks the type of swagger the song’s braggadocio lyrics necessitate. But the breadth of influences here is amazing–you can hear Radiohead and The Cure bump shoulders with harmoniously vintage dub (“Lucifer”), King Crimson (“Justify My Thug”), and abstract electronic (“Change Clothes”). Oddly, it’s the album’s most traditional song that portrays 100db’s strongest. Despite the ingenuity of the album as a whole, no song extracts as much a guttural reaction as the beautiful “Threat” (mp3) a harmonious track where satin strings and a silk piano rest on a melancholic bed. It’s consistent with the top-notch standards in mainstream hip-hop and could conquer a Top 40 chart with ease.
Just be careful not to trip over the rhythmic booby-traps set all over the album. For instance, don’t blink twice—that IS, in fact, a short clip of Dillinger buried in the intro to “December 4th” (mp3). Likewise, when “Encore” breaks down to a ferocious dancehall bridge only to return with the song’s refrain, imagine the warped mind of 100db’s laughing the whole way. This isn’t a kid making standard beats in his bedroom—there is an incredible proficiency in durability here, as 100dbs has proven with the small treats he tucks away.
Looking back at the mash-up craze that followed The Grey Album last year is a lot easier to do from a comfortable distance, and now that things have quieted down we can take Danger Mouse’s album and its disciples at face value. Unfortunately as a whole the trend was soaked in novelty, but The Argyle Album answers any doubts with an honest love of music. It’s easy to see that 100db’s has purer intentions then bandwagon-jumping or else he’d have had the album out last year when publicity was at its height. The Argyle Album instead wins with charm and showcases a producer representative of a growing number of bright minds who are ready to facilitate a positive change in music both as a product and process.