Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review: The Delfonics - Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics

A ton of artists have been trying to recreate the sounds of classic sixties and seventies soul over the last fifteen years or so. Their success rate has been low. A few—Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley,[1] and Myron & E—have managed to tap into that old sound in a way that allows them to create songs in that style that sound fresh and vibrant and new. Most artists who try to do this end up making stale songs that rehash the former glories of other artists. They miss some crucial quality that great classic soul has, making soulless music that is soul in name only. On the soundtrack to Black Dynamite (2009), Adrian Younge fell into the former category, but since then he has moved from the strict template of soul revivalism with mixed results. In his episode of Noisey’s web series Crate Diggers, he says of Something About April, his album with his group Venice Dawn, that “it’s supposed to be a kind of record that a record collector would find and want to sample and make music off of.” Younge isn’t trying to exactly recreate the sounds of the past, he tries to create old style music through the lens of a hip-hop head in the present. All of his music sounds slightly out of time as a result. The Venice Dawn project clearly bears out this goal, but the results too often sound stiff and forced, the work of an artist with tremendous potential who hadn’t yet figured out how to best translate his sonic ideas into music.

Hooking up with William Hart, lead singer and primary songwriter from the Delfonics, has proven to be the missing link for Younge. Aside from 1999’s forgettable Forever New, the Delfonics haven’t been much of a going concern since they released their last album on Philly Groove, Alive & Kicking, in 1974. The group found new life in the nineties as their songs were sampled hundreds of times by hip-hop artists.[2] It is appropriate then that Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics has an audible hip-hop influence. Instead of attempting to recreate the string-laden sound of classic Delfonics records, Younge and Hart opt for a stripped-down cinematic break-heavy sound that works like gangbusters. Opener “Stop and Look (And You Have Found Love)” is almost entirely comprised of an ominous bass line and drum rolls tailor made for beatmakers to sample. The same is true of the knocking drums of side two opener “Stand Up,” and the skittering snare of “Just Love.” “Stand Up” features the longest break on the album, and it’s practically begging for a RZA or a Madlib to chop it up. “Lover’s Melody” and “Enemies,” with their dark mood and evocative vibe that are heavily indebted to Ennio Morricone, could function as classic Wu-Tang songs. “Enemies” has such a Wu-Tang indebted sound that it’s actually being reused on Younge’s upcoming collaboration with Ghostface Killah. “Lost Without You” is a gorgeous slice of light psychedelic soul that ends with a gospel chorus that immediately reminded me of the closing tracks on the Gorillaz’s Demon Days. The album ends perfectly with “Life Never Ends,” one of the only songs on the album to feature strings. The song reaches back to a period before the Delfonics were active, recalling the proto-psychedelic pop of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, another appropriately cinematic influence. Hart’s voice remains as powerful as ever, and his distinctive falsetto keeps this album firmly rooted in the Delfonics lineage even though it’s such a sonic departure for the group.

Even without strings, Younge is adept at recreating the classic Delfonics vibe, especially on the great “I Can’t Cry No More.” This one song aside, the songs that try to reproduce the old Delfonics tend to be among the weakest on the album, and “Silently” and “Party’s Over” don’t quite come together as well as the rest of the record. Thankfully, these songs are surrounded by everything that is great on this album, and the songs are short enough that it isn’t a bother to wait through them for the album’s real gems. Even with the couple of duds on this album, break specialists will find a lot to love in Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics. Shooting an old group’s sound through his own cinematic hip-hop sensibility has given Younge the focus he needed to make an album in the style of the European soundtrack composers and psychedelic soul artists that he idolizes without sounding so calculated and forced.[3]

Songs after the jump.

"Stop and Look (And You Have Found Love)"

"Lover's Melody"

"Stand Up"

[1] Especially on his new album Victim of Love, which somehow manages to be a significant improvement on his great first album.
[2] Two of the best examples of the Delfonics showing up on rap songs can be credited to Ghostface and the RZA. Hart showed up to sing on “After the Smoke is Clear” from Ghost’s first album Ironman. Years later on the song “Holla,” Ghost didn’t sample “La La Means I Love You,” he put on the 45 and rapped over the whole thing, creating the odd but endearing effect of the Delfonics singing underneath him for the entire song. Not coincidentally, Younge also made an album with Ghostface around the same time as the Delfonics record. It will be out in a little over a week.
[3] Between this record and the four songs that have already come out from Younge’s album with Ghostface, expectations are sky-high for Twelve Reasons to Die. I’m willing to bet that the album will exceed even these lofty expectations.

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