It’s hard not to get wrapped up in Mtendere Mandowa’s collage of pastel samples. Much has been said regarding the link between Mandows’ dripping watercolor paintings seen most readily on Teebs’ album covers and the music wrapped inside. The connection makes sense. The vivid abstractions in Mandow’s visual work coagulate into a vaguely psychedelic tangibility with more emphasis on hue and tone than on form or anything remarkably definitive. Much like the music. It’s more worthwhile to soak the images or sounds in and let them do their thing than it is to pick them apart. Doing so would most likely cause them to lose their magic.
Teebs’ 2010 Brainfeeder debut Ardour felt like a collection of percussive, glimmering field recordings left to wear on vinyl then stapled to the off-kilter, skull-rattle kick dirge of Alphapup, Anticon, Brainfeeder (etc) LA weirdness. Teebs felt perfectly obvious working inside the Los Angeles hip-hop continuum, but Ardour had its own skin that Mandowa seemed more than comfortable wearing. There was an earnest attention-deficit to Ardour‘s eighteen tracks. As if Teebs got more excited about showing us an assortment of beautiful deteriorating sounds he’d stumbled upon by chance than about doing anything terribly sophisticated with them. And that worked. Well, in fact. Each track seemed to be intricately linked as one gorgeously sparkling melody was exchanged for another, compressed kick drum punctuating the aged, organic samples for a couple minutes then receding until the whole thing was over. Gone like a dream wallowing in technicolor. It was hard not to take the record at face value, which was fine because it didn’t ask anything more than that.
Collections 01 was pitched as, well, a collection. Not really an EP, not really an album (it clocks in at 29 minutes). It’s a perfectly apt title as this document does feel a bit like an assembly of odds and ends. Yet there is some growth to be found. 01 is kind of an inverse of all that stuff I said above. There’s not much fluidity between tracks, but there is often more happening within a single song. Tonally, things get injected with a bit more drive, though everything still sounds like it was discovered in a candied forest J-Dilla had once been a resident of. We get collaborations with label-mate, free jazz auteur Austin Peralta and harpist Rebekah Raff. And there’s also a gorgeous extended cut of “While You Dooooo” off Ardour.
“Cook, Clean, Pay The Rent (New House Version)” is a prime example of Teebs’ chimey flourishes getting injected with a little adrenaline. The track plays like the most breezy blaxploitation car chase anthem ever conceived with its wah-pedal guitar flourishes, driving funked up bass line, and siren-call vocal sample all doused in a layer of syrupy delay. Teebs’ production coloring has to be pretty dialed for him to push the treble of something a little more muscled to the same shimmering cadences found on most of his material. Pretty much everything here would have been at home on Ardour: “Jahara” with its cascade of harp plucks or “Pretty Polly” with its watery, antique percussion loop. The one track partially recycled from the LP, “While You Doooo (Extended),” might be the most worthwhile thing on 01, extending the original blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ninety seconds by a good two minutes, giving the vivid beauty at its core time to really blossom. The murmuring vocal loop and starry, unfurling tremolo sample just melt themselves into your ears.
The collaborations are great as well, especially “Verberna Tea” which starts with Raff sitting down at her instrument and picking a few notes before Teebs’ glistening chopped samples and sluggish, clicking beats shove their bodied way into place. It feels like the perfect little jam for a rainy afternoon stuck indoors. It sort of makes me wonder when the whole of Brainfeeder is going to go Voltron and give us the ultimate FlyLo-conducted jazz-hop manifesto. Collaborations like these along with the past year and a half of releases from Thundercat, Austin Peralta, and, of course, FlyLo, are evidence that this melding between beats and live, semi-improvised instrumentation is just budding its way past conception and could really go somewhere special (not that it already hasn’t in some cases). Collections 01 gives us a few things to think about, but one thing is for sure: Teebs ain’t going nowhere.