It's not just his penchant for baseball caps that marks Blockhead out as America's East Coast answer to DJ Shadow. Just like his Californian compatriot Josh Davis, Tony Simon has long been a lynchpin behind the mixing desk of his hometown's hip-hop scene—producing the likes of Aesop Rock for underground New York label Def Jux. Nonetheless, Simon has really made his the Blockhead name with two albums of instrumental trip-hop. True, neither 2004's Music By Cavelight or 2005's Downtown Science had anywhere near the commercial success or the same towering majesty as Shadow's seminal Endtroducing… or The Private Press, but their deft and subtle soundscapes were still head and shoulders above most of the other music churned out by Shadow's legions of copyists.
And now, to continue the extended comparison, for his third album Blockhead has turned his back on the MPC sampler that formed the bedrock of his previous efforts to embrace new technology. That's something which might start warning signs flashing. After all, Shadow did the same thing on The Outsider. But any dyed-in-the-wool trip-hop fans still in therapy following exposure to the occasionally inspired but often downright infuriating mess of hyphy, rock and indie also-rans that was Shadow's third album can relax. While The Outsider was a deliberately provocative statement, only the most eagle-eared listener will be able to discern a noticeable difference in Blockhead's style here. The fact that it sounds somewhat lusher and more multi-layered is down to his use of Ableton, but The Music Scene is really a refinement rather than a rejection of what has come before.
The same sense of urban paranoia that permeated his New York concept album Downtown Science can still be felt in "The Daily Routine" which—with its samples of two junkies arguing—sounds a bit like one of the infamous Bum Fights videos scored by Portishead. And although Ableton might have made Blockhead's rhythms more malleable—check the switch from hip-hop to drum & bass tempo in opener "It's Raining Clouds" or the way "Tricky Turtle" sinks from a funk-filled beginning into a bass-heavy lumber—the atmosphere feels slightly set in a Ninja Tune trip-hop template, with sampled spoken word segments a la DJ Food and some Stygian post-rock guitar parts similar to Sixtoo. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing of course: A track like "The Prettiest Sea Slug" is amongst the best the genre has produced. But while The Music Scene—unlike The Outsider—contains no nasty shocks, nor does it have any real surprises.
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Tracklist: Blockhead - The Music Scene 01. It's Raining Clouds
02. The Music Scene
03. Only Sequences Change
04. Which One of You Jerks Drank My Arnold Palmer?
05. Attack the Doctor
06. The Prettiest Sea Slug
07. The Daily Routine
08. Tricky Turtle
09. Four Walls
10. Pity Party
11. Hell Camp
12. Farewell Spaceman