PSU Vanguard Shield Icon

Dynamic duos expand

The best dynamic duos don’t wear tights and aren’t ambiguously gay. They save the damn day with music. All three of these duos (and a half-duo) make progressive music electronically – with samplers, computers and the like – but incorporate old-fashioned instruments like guitars and electric pianos to create finished sounds that are hard to classify. Kick your feet up, have some tea and set the hi-fi to sounds by the dynamic duos of the future.

Thievery Corporation

The Richest Man In Babylon

ESL Music

This duo, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, met in D.C. after diverse musical backgrounds (both even played punk rock at one point). They now run a trendy club that sports good sounds and a dress code, the Eighteenth Street Lounge. They have a record label of the same name.

Selling 350,000 copies of their last album The Mirror Conspiracy helped introduce the commodity to the world. Also helping was the accessibility of their worldly sounds and mid-tempo beats for trendy scenesters. It’s to be expected, and it happens with most artists of this genre who make unobtrusive music that makes people feel good and stands up to the high style-council standards.

Perhaps Thievery is deliberately trying to shun that image. As music, and not commodity, The Richest Man In Babylon is quality Thievery music that even takes a stab at social criticism. Sure it sounds like other Thievery records, but why stop a good thing? Their dubwise effects, deep melodic bass and textual guitars blend with great new guest vocal turns from Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini, Patrick Dos Santos, Notch, Sleepy Wonder, Shinehead and veterans LouLou and Pamela Bricker. They’ve carved a unique sound that builds off more or less a hip-hop beat, percussion, spatial-but-upfront bass lines, ethnic textures, exotic vocals, and an occasional treat like horns or a bossa nova. The sounds give much aural pleasure. It flows together well and makes for a nice long player as sitars and Persian-French chanteuse’s come and go.

Back to the commodity side: The package includes a plain white case and a booklet with many pictures of people from around the world. Work, play, struggle, oppression and revolution are captured. The lyrics are printed in French, Spanish and English. With the package, the cast and the sounds they choose, Thievery send a global message while still sounding unique. The Thievery message is one of consciousness and understanding. They want us to expand our minds from the recliner or the trendy shop into a broader world.

King Kooba

Indian Summer


UK duo King Kooba’s future jazz sure makes you wish for an Indian summer. Why not have jazzy breaks, slinky hip-hop and house beats as a warm reminder to soak up these last few glimpses of the warm bubble. The Koobas, Charlie Tate and Matt “DJ Shuff” Harris, produced drum and bass for a few minutes before easing back and kicking up the foot rest on the down-tempo lounge. Indian Summer is hard to keep under the down-tempo electronic umbrella, though. It simmers with enough energy and live instrumentation to make you feel warm without forcing you to get up.

“Honey Locust” kicks things off with a frenetic jazzy break blended with warm textures as a tasty guitar solo builds the bridge to the end. “LosingYou” is so smooth it could easily be heard on an adult contemporary radio R&B show. The title track is a long house track with keyboards and syncopated percussion that builds into Soulstice vocalist Gina Rene’s dubbed-out vocals. The track successfully builds from house to atmospheric drum and bass and back again to climax in a long 10 minutes. They have a knack for introducing a groove, then changing it up at a long break as it begins to become monotonous. “Public Service” goes from a somewhat busy house, breaks down into a swinging jazz groove and builds into big house with another guitar solo to ride on. To make it even jazzier, they include an old interview seminar with a jazz horn player giving good advice. And Roots Manuva spits lyrics on a deep sexy hip-hop groove for “Barefoot” like only Roots Manuva can spit lyrics.

There are five guest vocalists – though some stand out more than others – and only four instrumentals. The album shines when they let the live instruments run free, but the accessibility of the neo-soul, lyric-driven cuts is appreciated to break things up. They can even get straight abstract with spastic jazz drum breaks, stabbing keys and random ensemble sounds. In places, it sounds like they cut up and put back together more than the regular budget short stack of jazz records. The term nu-jazz is a little played out, but with tasty sax solos, guitar, turntable improv and sweet vocal harmonies sprinkled with blue notes, it’s apt. This is a solid progression for King Kooba, electronic music, neo-jazz and soul.

Mark Rae

Rae Road

Grand Central

Okay, Mark Rae’s solo debut obviously wasn’t created by a duo. It can be looked at as a case study in what happens when one partner of a successful duo decides to go it alone. U.K. DJ, producer, one half of Rae and Christian, and Grand Central records label boss Mark Rae’s debut, Rae Road, is a bouncy little full-length. Grand Central has released some progressive hip-hop and electronic, as have Rae and Christian. Rae doesn’t really break new ground here, but he doesn’t disappoint either. Without straying far from the hip-hop beat core, Rae stretches out on some pretty instrumentals, forward breaks, ragga-vocalized dancehall cuts, slinky instrumentals and some chilled atmospherics. Piano, strings, horns and sweet vocals keep things on the level. Rae’s done well on this. There are definitely some standout head-bobbers and ear-catchers, but perhaps the duo formula is more dynamic.