Is it possible to be too supportive of an iconoclastic genius? If so, Stones Throw head honcho Peanut Butter Wolf risks accusations of being overly indulgent toward Madlib, his label's shape-shifting, wildly eclectic in-house sonic mad scientist. Madlib has cranked out a slew of classics for Stones Throw under various aliases. But it sometimes feels like Wolf is intent on releasing everything Madlib records, whether it's an instant classic like Madvillainy, or an unedited tape of Madlib and his brother Oh No fucking around on kazoos for an hour.
Madlib and Stones Throw's sometimes-shaky collective commitment to quality control reaches its apotheosis in Expressions (2012 a.u.), Madlib's second and hopefully final failed attempt to transform longtime pal and collaborator Dudley Perkins (a.k.a. Declaime) into a proper soul singer. Alas, Perkins' strangled-cat yowl is still a voice not even a mother could love, and his songwriting skills border on nonexistent. The monster disco-funk groove of "Get On Up" and the exquisite reflective soul of "That's The Way It's Gonna Be" and "Me" are so damned infectious that they seem singer-proof, but there's no groove too heavenly for Perkins' nails-on-chalkboard voice to send crashing back to earth. Expressions confirms that Perkins is to satiny neo-soul what Biz Markie is to crooning: a grotesque burlesque of the genuine article.
Originally available as two separate vinyl releases, Madlib's instrumentalist opus Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes follows gamely in the footsteps of J-Dilla's eccentric, adventurous Donuts. Madlib is such an accomplished musician and producer that it can be easy to overlook his blunted, irreverent humor; there's as much Firesign Theater as Marley Marl in his creative DNA. Madlib's spacey concoctions stitch together found sounds, left-field samples, and strangely evocative sound bites into a strangely cohesive whole that taps directly into the same subsection of the subconscious as dreams and cult movies, making this the perfect soundtrack to a drive-in theater in a much hipper, funkier galaxy. The 35 stellar instrumental tracks on Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes make a convincing argument that in the future Madlib—a one-man band in both the literal and figurative sense—might be better off eschewing rappers and singers as collaborators altogether, especially if the rapper-singer in question is the vocally and lyrically challenged Perkins.