Bubble Bath is a potent and evocative stew, and Blockhead blends it all together with a light touch.
Over the course of 10 albums in 15 years, Blockhead has quietly and steadfastly plied his trade, stubbornly exploring all the nooks and crannies of the moody side of instrumental hip-hop. He appears to create beats with stunning ease, a master of his craft able to conjure entire worlds that insinuate rather than overwhelm. It is music for nighttime activities, slightly more spectral than sexual, but intimate nonetheless.
So where does Blockhead land in the modern musical landscape? Instrumental hip-hop has in many ways become modern Muzak, a backdrop for anything other than close listening. YouTube is littered with “chill study beats” that are designed to be sonic wallpaper. Can an hour-plus album of five- to six-minute compositions with no vocals sustain close listening? Does it even deserve it?
In the case of Bubble Bath, the answer is an unqualified “yes.” As the title suggests, these 12 tracks demand to be luxuriated in, each composition subtly sneaking from moment to moment and surprising the listener with each new discovery. Sounds weave in and around each other like ghosts, not so much fighting for your attention as gently asking for it. The music on Bubble Bath feels plucked from the ether around us. There’s an urban feel at its base, but the sounds seem unmoored from time and place, as if the music is reaching across the astral plane to make itself heard.
There’s a sense of playfulness throughout as Blockhead combines samples in extraordinary ways that lead the listener to unfamiliar places, often within the same song. Each track unfolds like a game of three-card monte; take your ear off the music for a moment and you’ll find yourself someplace new with no idea how you got there. On “Spicy Peppercorn,” Blockhead takes a psychedelic path towards a thrilling denouement of dryly funky guitar that drops from out of nowhere and disappears almost as quickly. Or consider “The Magical Intimacy Camel” with its insistent clapping sample that gives way to a smooth, soft rock sensuality and a creamy, bubbling bass line. And on standout track “Over and Out” ghostly psychedelic voices are married to late-night funk, creepy sci-fi and mariachi horns. The nighttime vibe is strong, of course, as songs like “That’s How He Got Dead” and “Vitamin D Deficiency” evoke the noirish landscapes of old detective films while the sexy “Bubble Bath” begs to be listened to while taking part in the titular activity, preferably with a companion.
Bubble Bath is a potent and evocative stew, and Blockhead blends it all together with a light touch. But the album requires some patience. With every new Blockhead album, for the first few listens, it can be easy to wonder if we really need yet another album of spacey beats. For most artists, there’s a fine line between consistency and complacency, and Blockhead certainly rides that line. The music on Bubble Bath does not veer far from the well-worn paths of previous Blockhead albums, and as a result, there are a few moments that can easily slip by if you let them. However, this is an album that rewards repeated listens. It’s a testament to how dense and well thought-out these compositions are that it can take a few listens to connect with several of the tracks like “Moist Ghost” or “Over and Out.” New sounds are constantly bubbling to the surface and it’s thrilling to hear it all click into place. Blockhead is clearly still enjoying himself and Bubble Bath makes the case that you should be enjoying him too.