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JJ DOOM – Keys To The Kuffs

Album review

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The introduction to “Keys To The Kuffs” features samples of miscellaneous Londoners welcoming a masked figure and warmly inviting him to “come and have a drink”. It’s an offer that Daniel “DOOM” Dumile has been forced to take up. A few years ago he became mired in controversy following his decision to send ‘fake DOOMs’, wearing his trademark metal-face mask, to perform instead of him at gigs. He must’ve wished he’d sent another imposter out on his 2010 European tour too, as upon his return he was refused entry back into the USA. Why? Well, it turns out that Dumile is not actually an American citizen. Born in Britain but raised in the States, he never bothered to apply for an American passport and is now indefinitely stuck in the country of his birth.

Apart from being estranged from his family, the repatriation doesn’t appear to have done him much harm. In fact, two years spent in South London seems to have provided some rich inspiration – this collaboration with Jneiro Jarel is the best thing DOOM’s been involved with for almost a decade, when albums like “Madvillainy” and “Vaudeville Villain” saw his reputation explode.

The London influence is audible right from the off, and not just in the unusual proportion of cockney voices popping up in the sample-based interludes that pepper the record. From the beguiling “Guv’nor” to the unexpected referencing of ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, the smoky shadow of London looms large throughout. A few British guests are also invited to join in, with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons adding some typically mournful vocals to the haunting strings that sweep through “GMO” and Damon Albarn assisting on “Bite The Thong” (although his contribution was presumably behind the mixing desk rather than the mic – there’s no Gorillaz-esque pop chorus here).

The album’s success owes more to Jarel though, whose work with Willie Isz and Shape Of Broad Minds has already set him up as one of the most interesting beatsmiths in hip hop. Excepting the skittering rhythms of “Bite The Thong” (which recall DOOM’s own beats), the producer strikes a fine balance between tuneful soulfullness (“Winter Blues”) to sinister atmospherics (“Dawg Friendly”), while the dark yet tropical lilt of “Retarded Fren” is just bloody brilliant. And while DOOM’s flow occasionally falters – he’s clearly ill-at-ease with the tempo of “Banished” – the duo are generally exceedingly well-matched. A deftly absorbing LP, “Keys To The Kuffs” suggests that London has been kind to old Metal Face. If the yanks really don’t want DOOM back Britain will be more than happy to keep him.

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Babe, Terror - Knights

Babe, Terror - Knights
Ever since the release of the eponymous "Music Has The Right To Children" barely a month goes by without a misguidedly over-excited reviewer comparing some outfit or other to Boards of Canada. Almost always, it's unjustified. Either the act in question tries to go for the same lush-yet-creepy sound in a hopelessly hamfisted way, or they manage to nail the sound but leave it devoid of that very specific atmosphere. You know, the one that makes you feel like you're lost in space and adrift at sea simultaneously. Babe, Terror, a one-man bedroom adventurer from Sao Paulo, is one of the few artists who can lay fair claim to that liminal territory. Though "Knights" is technically an EP, it disseminates dissasociative qualities that seem to make tracks drift for days before disappearing in seconds (its actual length is a digestible 34 minutes). Opening track "Lifantastic I" sets the tone for the rest of the record, with twisted vocal samples drifting over shifting tones and a murmuring heartbeat. Occasionally, everything seems to fold in on itself. If you don't pay attention you might find your eyes rolling into the back of your head (even if you do pay atention you might find them spinning there regardless). "Savagestic" seals the musical link with Warp's Scottish duo, combining a lo-fi beat like those on "A Few Old Tracks" with reversed, layered synth tones that drift from harmony to dissonance as if it's the most natural thing in the world. Following the brief, beat-less break that is "Cleric", "Lifantastic II" expands on the opening track's themes, although in all honesty a combined seventeen minutes is probably overkill. Thankfully, closing track "War" adds something a bit new. The vocals sound like someone held a bottle in front of the singer's lips, sealed it, and then recorded its contents back in the studio. Breathy beyond recognition, and refreshingly free of dischord, it leaves the listener on an uplifting zephyr. Babe, Terror has managed to nail Boards of Canada's aura; the interesting thing will be to see where he can take it now.
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