The Tao of Yo – Yohimbe BrothersCollision – DJ Harry
Thirsty Ear 57149-2
Sci Fidelity 1019
In an October issue of Newsweek, Bob Dylan, in response to being asked what he thought about hip-hop, replied: "There’s a lot of clever minds behind that, no question about it. But you know, less is more."
And while I wouldn't want to prophetize Dylan in the suspicious, martyr-to-fame way he complains about in Chronicles ,the guy usually knows what he’s talking about, even when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s a comment that at least holds some significance in terms of the Yohimbe Brothers’ (aka DJ Logic and Vernon Reid) recent release, The Tao of Yo (yes, you read that correctly), an ambitious Pollock painting of musical ideas that, while producing its moments, too often loses control of its creative energy, sacrificing the method and restraint that would have otherwise made it a remarkable album.
The thing about Logic, whose consciousness has always seemed to gravitate around genre-melting collaborations, is that results tend to depend on a unique kind of chemistry. Consequently, things can be kind of hit or miss. More than frequently in this work there's simply just too much going on, where that genre-defying pathos doesn't manifest itself in sounds that interlock smoothly and deftly, but seem too often to be thrown haphazardly on top of each other. The introductory "Shine For Me," complete with vocals that are more aggravating and unnecessary every time they appear in the course of the album, sounds all too queasily like a Black Eyed Peas number, which is never a good thing, a problem which is compounded by guest vocals from Eva Milan Zsiga and Latasha Nevada Diggs that recur. Meanwhile, tracks like "The Secret Frequency" and "Noh Rio" project similar convolution.
The Yohimbe Brothers also don't themselves any favors in their incorporation of the forced, ineffective political commentary that runs, via guest lyricists Bos Omega and Traz, through the album in tracks like "TV," "No Pistolas," and, most prominently, "More From Life" — the kind of vapid, uncrafted political statements that, of course, we're used to hearing in our music, complete with philosophical gems like : "Tore Iraq up but didn't find any weapons/Saddam's Threat was as real as an Urban Legend", and "Y'all are sleep/Minds like mind is deep/ I play the modern day Shepard, y'all are sheep/ Getting used and abused like little bo peep."
Oh, yes! Show me the light Traz! While such aphorisms will certainly leave at least one 14 year old Goth weeping in self- righteous empathy, they lack the sense of unaffected BELIEF that made Dylan's work so forceful while still being held in abstraction. Of course there's room for political statements in music. Hell, there's room for almost anything in music. But the prerequisites for those statements are the same within the music as they are in any other context: we want them to be crafted and, more importantly, we want them to be sincere in a way that is separate from self-involved egocentrism.
It's not fair to compare anyone to Dylan as far as songwriting is concerned. Most of the time it's not even relevant or productive, but there's something of a lost art there in being able to achieve a tone of loose streamy improvisation which, despite the apparent discovery of its own intent with each subsequent moment, maintains a sense of "cut worm forgives the plow" investment and trust in the action of its thought that veils itself in sincerity — as if the thought was the proof in itself. The irony of the statements in The Tao of Yo is that despite their aggression, they come off as posturing and self-important as the figures against which they direct that angst.
The sense isn't that they are being made out of some organic necessity for voice, but rather out of the necessity to make a statement, which, beyond the possibility of pissing you off, might just make you sad, because the real problem here is the way that these forced political riffs obscure many of the album's best instrumental delvings. Just as "More From Life" fades into a speaker shifting groove marked by Reid's impressive solo work, just when you begin to fall into that insular, connected space- those damn vocals again.
From the press kit of the album:
" ....(This album) questions the conventions of modern thought, as well as the conventions of music itself. This album also contains a strong political undertone, so it's timely and fitting that this record should come during this supercharged election year."
Shit I feel bad writing this. I feel, well, as conflicted as this album sounds. Because on the other hand, there are tracks like "Thirty Spokes," setting Ricky Quinones' delicate acoustic play over background work from Logic that is as complex as it is subtle, that provide smooth, meditative rides. There are tracks like the phenomenal "Overcoming," in which haunting acoustic work layered with growling, frenetically overdriven guitar is set over a sparse head-nod groove that eventually dives cohesively underwater into atmospheric work by Logic, which powerfully captures the kind of slickness that appears so erratically throughout this work and speaks to the creativity and purpose that lies at its core.
But, ultimately, the more pervasive theme is that volatile battle between its ambition and its sense of craft — ineffective when it overextends itself, assimilating too many musical ideas into spaces which can't effectively accommodate them, extremely impressive when it chooses just the right amount of those creative ideas and does as much as it can, producing texture, groove, and electricity out of minimal spaces. (See also MMW's End of The World Party). It’s in those moments that the album adds up to what it’s advertised to be: a kineticized, mullti-sytlistic blend of unconscious, transportive grooves and guitar that would make Dave Chappelle, John Mayer and ?uestlove scream "I’m rich, biotch!" Like most albums, this would be a much better listen if it concerned itself more with the essential collaboration between Logic and Reid, pairing out the nonsense. But see, that’s the thing about any good party — you have to be careful who you invite.
A pretty explicit example of the value of that maxim, as it happens, appears in DJ Harry's corresponding release Collision, in which he manages to effectively weld his own identity with the high-energy mountain jam ethos of String Cheese Incident’s Michael Kang and Kyle Hollingsworth . "Monkfish," one of the more overt stages for Harry’s impressive sense of texture and sonic multi-tasking, layers Kang’s electric mandolin work over a haunting, trance-like (ironically Medeskiesque) groove that seems to expand and deepen as it moves, introducing successive ideas with the type of seamless continuity that Logic’s album mostly disregards. "All My Life," on the other hand, offers an extremely smooth alternative to the incorporation of lyrics, where the delicate, nonchalant bluesiness (think Norah Jones) of Lissie’s vocals float above a symbiotic jam that grows in progressive intricacy under her voice, segueing into the sweetened despair and subterranean, cavernous atmosphere of the xylophone laden "Shadows."
Things, in fact, get more intriguing as the album approaches its climactic stage. "Aquarium Man," anchored by captivating, stratified rhythmic complexity borne of variegated, almost found-instrument percussion, and brought to life Hollingworth's funked out contributions, appears in many ways as the most explicit celebration of Harry's DJ work, who picks his spots within the collage with precision and character along side more electric mandolin and multi-layered horns . "Galactic," showcases the joint compositional talents of Hollingsworth and Kang, and highlighted by Hollingsworth's fluttering fills, in which playful melodic lines skip carelessly across an aggressive, no-nonsense, bass driven electronic scaffolding, a cohesion that eventually inverts itself with sustained notes highlighting winding rhythmic morphings. Merely by being cognizant of its own purpose and ingredients, Collision manages with affable ease to maintain perfect proportions of challenge and effortless engagement, as much a mind bending ride as it is a sonic stroll that requires nothing except a good pair of speakers.