It's been a while since I've done any reviews and I'm a bit later off the mark with this one – the release date was 10th March, almost a week ago as I write this. However, it's been on loop on my MP3 player ever since I was sent it for review so I felt I could hardly pass by the opportunity to sing the praises of what is definitely one of the best CDs I've been sent this year.
This is the first I've heard of Galactic, despite their having previously worked with Dan The Automator and played alongside The Roots, Talib Kweli and Jurassic 5. For those equally ignorant of the act up until now, Galactic are a five-piece band whose style is rooted in funk but who seem to relish pushing the boundaries and bringing in diverse elements and grooves. The beats here take the form of more lively, electric versions of every type of sampled hip-hop beat you've ever heard and more besides. That in itself is enough to recommend the album and the sheer variety of instrumentals here, from snarlingly rocky through to smooth and jazzy, would make for an enjoyable listening experience without any further input.
Not satisfied with this though, Galactic have rifled through their little black book of mic-wreckers and called out a number of talented MCs to add that little something extra. DJ Shadow's Quannum crew are well represented (Lateef, Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab and Vursatyl) which can only be a good thing and we also hear from Charli 2na, Boots Riley, Amp Fiddler and several more.
There are honestly no weak tracks on here (even Dendemann's teutonic assault on “Valley of Pain” strikes me as quirky rather than irritating) so in terms of further description I shall limit myself to pulling out a few highlights. The most straightforward of these is Gift of Gab performing his trademark, abnormally fast flows on “The Corner”.
Elsewhere, Ladybug Mecca and Nino Moschella invert the traditional male-rapper-and-female-singing, R&B-by-numbers template done to death by LL et al – I heard the same trick pulled on Jazzy Jeff's “Love Saviour” but it still brings a smile to my face.
“Second and Dryades” featuring Big Chief Monk Boundreaux (cool name or what?) is all wild drums and bizarre noises, the vocals are baffling but expressive and the whole track hits with the fierceness.
The best track on here though, or at least the one that made the most impact on me, is “Find My Home” featuring Vursatyl and Ohmega Watts. The two MCs trade bars which prove beyond doubt that rap can serve as poetry, telling tales and conveying a boundless sorrow at the fate of those who struggle in America's ghettos. Stepping beyond the comfort zone of numb defiance that limits so many rappers, commercial or underground, they lay bare emotion and vulnerability which strikes to the core. The subtle instrumentation of the backing track and the sung chorus hook effectively reinforce the mood of the whole.
01. What You Need with Lyrics Born
02. …And I'm Out with Mr. Lif
03. The Corner with Gift of Gab
04. Second and Dryades with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux
05. Think Back with Chali 2na
06. Bounce Baby with Z-Trip
07. Hustle Up with Boots Riley
08. Sidewalk Stepper
09. From the Corner to the Block with Juvenile & Soul Rebels Brass Band
10. Squarebiz with Ladybug Mecca and Nino Moschella
11. Tuff Love with Trombone Shorty
12. No Way with Lateef the Truth Speaker
14. Find My Home with Vursatyl and Ohmega Watts