Left Coast producer Madlib has always had a knack for turning his studio in-jokes into tangible musical projects. In 1999 he received major critical acclaim when he sped his voice up to become The Unseen MC Quasimoto. In 2002 he and his friend Declaime released "Flowers," a novelty R&B record under Declaime's real name, Dudley Perkins. "Flowers," a goofy tribute to marijuana, was never meant to be taken too seriously, but it became a huge success among both hip-hop and downtempo fans and DJs like neosoul guru Gilles Peterson.
Now Madlib and his equally mad partner's new LP, A Lil Light, proves that Perkins is far from a one-hit wonder. Exceeding all expectations, it is the greatest work Madlib has produced since he first stepped on the scene with the Lootpack's Psyche Move EP. Sonically, it is a dense pastiche of heavily filtered string and guitar samples woven together to create a sound that is rich, haunting, and desolate at the same time, creating the perfect vibe for Perkins's crooning. The mood shifts from the ultradark "The Light," which is highly reminiscent of Portishead, to happier, quirkier tracks like the aforementioned "Flowers." Madlib fuses the album together with some wildly psychedelic interludes reminiscent both of Sun Ra and fellow Oxnard producer Kankick's classic Warped Mind mix tape.
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Vocally, Perkins alternates between a slurred and sloppy deadpan that sounds remarkably like Ol' Dirty Bastard and a high-pitched, mock-Prince falsetto, using the latter technique on the clubby "Money." Perkins's lyrics espouse a sort of cornball cosmic attitude that would be ridiculous if he did not seem so sincere. "I hang on the edge of the universe, singing off-key," he declares on "Falling." In his search for God through music, Perkins uses repetition of words, creating an almost tantric effect. This is most effective on "Solitude," a loving paean to God and loneliness that is also the most beautiful and moving cut on the album. Accompanying Perkins's stoner spirituality tracks are two songs dedicated to his family. "Momma," a thank-you letter to his own mother, has a distinct D'Angelo vibe, while a love song to his son, "Lil' Black Boy," is a scattered masterpiece worthy of Tricky. Ultimately A Lil Light is one of those rare LPs where just about everything works. Definitely a contender for best of the year.