ALBUM REVIEW: The Gaslamp Killer – Breakthrough

The Gaslamp Killer Breakthrough

 

Written for the 405

William Bensussen first hit the decks professionally – inspired by turntablists like DJ Shadow – in the Gaslamp district of San Diego when he was 17. Six years later he moved to LA to help start up the Low End Theory club night, a “monolithic weekly showcase for uncut beat-driven tracks.” From there he met up-and-coming artists like rapper/Yoga teacher Gonjasufi, The Beastmaster, and current hot ticket Flying Lotus. In 2008, Lotus founded Brainfeeder records, and signed Bensussen to his new label. This year, Benussen – better known as The Gaslamp Killer – releases his debut album. It’s aBreakthrough that’s been a long time coming.

Like a good stew, the slow cooking time for this initial collection of instrumental hip-hop, electronic and dance cuts has helped give it a rich, varied flavour. Like much of Brainfeeder’s output, Breakthrough is a hybrid of sounds: the harder, darker beats of current underground hip-hop; the attention to mood and atmosphere as much as tension and release found in early dubstep; swathes of synthesised whirrs, clicks and beeps that stretch back as far as the history of dance music goes – the evolution of The Gaslamp Killer, handily linked by vocal samples of Bensussen’s own parents, ala December 4th’.

Whilst the shadow of Bensussen’s original inspiration hangs over a lot of Breakthrough, with its hard, crunching breakbeats and idiosyncratic deployment of vocal samples (most memorably the linguistic discussion of the use of the word ‘Fuck’), and the interpolation of old snapping, crackling and popping recordings of string orchestras and Hammond organs, there’s enough original shapes to be made out through the weed smoke to recommend it.

Frequent partner-in-crime Gonjasufi gives a typically languidly-delivered but lyrically-inspired performance on ‘Apparitions’ but, otherwise, the assorted rogue’s gallery of collaborators – mostly cherry-picked from the Brainfeeder stable – lend a hand to the production, keeping things fresh with distorted pitch-bending chiptune noises (courtesy of SAMIYAM on ‘Peasants, Cripples & Retards’), faster and looser breakbeats (on ‘Meat Guilt’ with RSI), and two-step rhythms and swirling synths with Computer Jay on stand-out ‘Holy Mt Washington’, which sounds like The Avalanches via The Chronic.

It’s a bold and (despite some of the song titles) mature record; whether it quite lives up to its name is another matter. Whilst the collaborations on the musical side manage to maintain a balance between shaking things up whilst not being radically different to each other, this does make seventeen tracks of mostly instrumental pieces a little…samey. More vocal turns could have helped to keep things as fresh and varied as the Killer’s extensive back catalogue of mix tapes; as it is, it’s no Endtroducing…, but it does enough to make sure such comparisons aren’t likely to be common.

6.5/10

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