Jel – 04.15.06

the Abbey Pub – Chicago

The current hotshot of the post-hip-hop label Anticon, Jel’s new album Soft Money is garnering a mass of positive press. The album sits on a fine line, a crossover between the label staple of heady hip-hop and the realm of dark experimental electronic music. Mr. Logan walked out onto the stage and settled into his nest of equipment at the left side. In a charmingly casual move, he introduced himself and chatted with the audience about his album before launching into “Sweet Cream in It” from his recently released Soft Money. He punched out the quick rhythms and the raunchy 70’s guitar riff on a MPC sampler. While the visual effect of watching a man quickly hit buttons is akin to watching your buddy play Halo while not getting to see the T.V., understanding the concept and dexterity necessary to pull off the richly layered sound of the track is up there with the skill required to be a talented drummer. The presentation also leaves room for swing and improvisation, which is an improvement over just using some playback and a turntable. A testament to the maturation of the video game generation we all occupy, the audience was completely content and engaged to watch a man make beautiful down-tempo music by pushing a complex series of buttons. Maybe in fifteen years we’ll see an orchestra of Dance Dance Revolution pads in a line along an opera house stage. When he got into playing the song, his eyes would be focused on the sampler, shaggy shoulder-length hair swaying in time to the beat. For me, it was enough to watch a few songs and then comfortably sit down to enjoy the rest of the set.

He moved into the spacey “All Day Breakfast,” a song that builds a nest of reverb-soaked snare hits that encase a warm sitar loop. The near jungle breaks moved in and out of the warm drone that Anticon fans are more than familiar with. What sets him apart from many of his label-mates is how, when he brings in the beat, he utilizes the heavier kick and cleaner snare, pushing his music closer to the heart of hip-hop.

Unlike a DJ, he’d leave a clear break between songs, making no effort to blend tracks into each other. It wasn’t really an issue, because each song utilizes a varied palate of beats and tones that they stood on their own as separate episodes. His strongest talent lies in knowing which samples to use where: a snippet of oboe here, a crisp hi-hat there. He’s also talented at layering his tracks. It takes a good understanding of your material to know when to pour it on or when to pull back the curtain and simplify the song. Despite the breaks, the set still wandered along in a dreamy sort of way. The crowd was exceptionally attentive, happy showing their affection during the downtime between each song. I felt that he could have benefited from some sort of video projection, but the overall strength of the set made it irrelevant.

Previously published on Loose Record

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *