Review : Icebird - The Abandoned Lullaby
PitchforkAs shaky as his output was in the years since he first set hip hop orthodoxy aside, writing RJD2 off as a total loss seems premature. The Third Hand's dippy bedroom-pop flopped in the way that only abrupt stylistic detours can, but when he honed that lite-funk sound on last year's decent-enough follow-up The Colossus, he seemed on his way toward actually taking it into appealing places. Factor in this year's oddball side project as the Insane Warrior, the 1980s horror soundtrack/electro-prog/library music pastiche We Are the Doorways, and he's already put out a couple of solid pieces of work in the last few years that retain his adventurous nature without letting the burden of his early rep stifle him. Maybe all he really needs to do is keep working out the kinks and find a way to let his beat-making chops translate more readily into traditional song arrangement.
Plus, teaming up with a pretty good vocalist wouldn't hurt. Enter Aaron Livingston, a singer originally out of Philly who flirted with fame via a guest spot on the Roots' "Guns Are Drawn" and showed up on The Colossus six years later to lend his talents to "Crumbs Off the Table". That went so well that Livingston and RJ recorded another dozen songs under the name Icebird, and if The Abandoned Lullaby is the best piece of evidence so far to justify RJD2 Mk. II, it's also a good showcase for an eccentric singer on the verge of reaching a wide, receptive audience. Both parties click together because they're willing to let genre be an afterthought, yet they still avoid succumbing to a rootless, stylistically overreaching identity crisis.
Identity crises being what they've been over RJD2's career, the fact that he's pulled together a number of familiar elements from his past repertoire is unsurprising but well-executed. Fans enamored with the rangy, all-things-1970s blowout Since We Last Spoke will find some good moments to grab on here-- there's still no gymnastic drum-break sample flipping, but RJ's geeky ear for cross-genre fusion pays off in a similarly satisfying way. The "Move on Up" vibe of "Just Love Me" and the minor-key, piano-driven skulk of "Please, Don't" are retro-funk 101, but their straightforwardness is driven by a marked flair for percussive arrangements that hit with more oomph than anything on his last two solo records. And his sense of ambition starts cresting on the album's dramatic, moody second half, where he indulges in the best instincts of his prog affinity to ends both icily ambient ("The Return of Tronson") and arena-rock heavy ("Gun for Hire")....full text
SpinRJD2's collaboration with Philly singer Aaron Livingston bears the qualities that have divided the instrumental hip-hop producer's fans since the 2006 misfire The Third Hand -- most prominently, jazz-rock ellipses and thin, expressive vocals (Livingston's are only slightly better than RJ's own efforts). But give Icebird a chance. The arrangements sound dynamic -- no beat loops here -- from the twinkling keyboards and bluesy guitar blasts of "Gun for Hire" to the subtle xylophone plinks on "King Tut." Livingston makes a meandering first impression, but his lyrics quickly move to a clearer, more forceful statement: "Just live," he sings on "Just Love Me...full text
ClatlDefinitive Jux was once the most venerable imprint in underground hip-hop. With a stacked roster that included Aesop Rock and flagship rapper/producer El-P, Def Jux carved out a militantly urgent voice. Between 2001 and 2007, no one hip-hop label released a more impressive volume of great albums. In-house producer RJD2 is now one-half of the psychedelic soul duo Icebird. But whereas RJD2's older records were usually saucer-eyed documents of paranoia, new album The Abandoned Lullaby combines mellow glitch-pop with the R&B wailing of Philadelphia's Aaron Livingston. Much of the album builds on the rich soul of groups like the Manhattans to create an unrepentantly '70s vibe. "Wander" is the kind of track Edwin Starr might’ve written after congesting a shroom smoothie. The brassily melancholic "Just Love Me" is rivaled only by the trippy Vietnam-era funk of "Gun for Hire." With his classically soulful voice, Livingston sounds dispatched from an era long since bygone....full text
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