thu 07/07/2022

Album: DJ Harrison - Tales From the Old Dominion | reviews, news & interviews

Album: DJ Harrison - Tales From the Old Dominion

Album: DJ Harrison - Tales From the Old Dominion

A rich and confounding gumbo of psychedelic funk fragments from the Deep South

The Californian label Stones Throw has long specialised in inseparably folding together the most profound and most wilfully foolish Black American music. And that is truer than ever on these 17 tracks from Virginian singer / songwriter / producer / multi-instrumentalist DJ Harrison.

As the title suggests, this is a politically engaged record, directly addressing the dark history of Harrison’s Deep South home, where Confederate generals’ statues still stand as a reminder that slavery is not only commemorated but celebrated by many. But it’s also full of sonic and lyrical kookiness, with every one of the short (often sub two minute tracks) densely packed with zooms and swooshes, jokes and silly voices, lurching and wobbling rhythms. 

Part of that is about its commitment to piling in as much musical history as possible. Direct references abound, to Hendrix and Roy Ayers, who are covered here, to Sly Stone (specifically the thick layers of deteriorated tape mixdowns of There’s a Riot Going On), to Funkadelic, to Lee “Scratch” Perry – and there’s a lot more vintage psych rock, jazz, hip hop and lo fi synth experimentalism in the mix to boot. All of this is splurged together in short sketches, with tracks clocking in at under two minutes, and is ostentatiously stoned. Things start and stop without warning, minor embellishments become the main event, guest voices (Pink Siifu, Nigel Hall, Billy Mercury, Stimulator Jones) goof off and free associate. 

It can feel very profound, the humour and oddness wrong footing you and the swirling complexities of the grooves drawing you into their depths. But the abrupt shifts and stops can leave you high and dry just as often. You may wonder why someone so obviously multi talented in the studio is deliberately degrading sound quality at times – is it as a retro reference, is it arbitrary, is it a clever joke? The fragmented nature of the record is not unprecedented: after all Stones Throw comes out of hip hop “beat tape” culture, where producers would showcase their ideas in dozens of fragments. But it can be confounding. Still, there are more ideas in a two minute sketch here than in some people’s entire albums... it’s just hard not to wonder what would happen if Harrison allowed them to unfold at more length.

@joemuggs

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