Rating: 4.5

Label: The Agriculture

Some musicians believe that music should be their only artistic statement. Though notorious grumps like Bob Dylan have loosened up to write memoirs and host radio shows, many traditional songwriters have not expanded their writing to other forums; with the proliferation of music on the web, however, people are not only making music, they are talking about it. Jace Clayton (aka DJ/rupture) wears many hats: host of WFMU’s Mudd Up! radio show, music critic and creator of crackerjack albums such as Special Gunpowder. Now, after three years of silence, he has returned with Uproot, which may be one of the best records of 2008.

It seems impossible not to be infected by dubstep these days and Uproot is filled with the trippy beats and sullen basslines that comprise the genre. But dubstep is not the only thing on show here: ragga, rap and reggae help establish the illusory world Clayton creates. While M.I.A. used her world beat/aboriginal samples to force an extroverted example on Kala, Clayton looks inward, taking the found sounds and foreign beats and folding them until his universe immerses the listener. These 23 short tracks blend into one piece, such as when the dub of “Elders” by Clouds moves seamlessly into Istari Lasterfahrer’s “Bang Somebody.” More of a masterwork than a mash-up, these tracks should not stand alone and that is what makes Uproot such a special album. While Girl Talk’s cuts are jerky and self-referential, as Uproot progresses, the listener is taken deeper and deeper down Clayton’s rabbit hole. It is impossible to come up for breathe and shout, “Oh! That’s Elton John and Biggie! How neat!”

Mellow may be the name of the game here, but it’s not the type of music that simply blends into the background at a house party. Clayton is too clever for that. The genres shift gradually but with enough force to keep attention on what’s at stake here: it is true that dubstep is the central concept, but it’s not the only one. Much like Gang Gang Dance’s recent Saint Dymphna, Uproot is dubstep filtered through trance filtered through classical to create something entirely new. Clayton isn’t a DJ that haphazardly samples for the sake of sampling. There are deeper intricacies at work on Uproot.

It is the empty spaces here that get you. It could just be a spare beat over the sound of a radio being tuned. These spaces speak so much. “Radios et Announceurs,” by Stalker, turns into a few seconds of absolute silence until Ghislain Poirier plaintive “Ignadjossi” breaks in from another plane; jarring and perfect. There are too many moments of quiet beauty to name them all. The sweet strings on “Save From the Flames All That Yet Remains” match the gentle synths of “Reef.” Cellist Jenny Jones’ solo “Capilano Bridge” turns into a full, looping orchestra on Ekkehard Ehlers’ “Plays John Cassavetes Pt. 2.” It is a truly magical moment.

by David Harris

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