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Dublab Presents Freeways

Various Artists
Dublab Presents: Freeways
(Emperor Norton)

This is one of those compilations that you shouldn't worry about either the cover art (it's sort of plain looking) or the artists involved (chances are that you probably haven't heard of most of them). Like many other random times when out buying music, I ignored both of the above things and came out with a nice little compilation of some music that I probably would have never heard otherwise. Put together by Dublab.com (who have created a pioneering web radio site that has had everyone from The Orb, Coldbut, and Mouse On Mars perform live sets at their studio), the focus of this particular release (or so the liner notes state) is to cover Los Angeles' underground electronic and hip-hop scenes.

That said, this disc doesn't really have much hip-hop on it at all. It mainly works a mellow electronic groove of varying degrees, one that you might expect to come from the West Coast of the United States. There are plenty of funky beats, and enough catchy melodies to sway the palm trees. The release starts out with "The Sky Below" by Languis & Fer Chloca, a track that mixes in a touch of organic (with some guitar strums and soft vocals) over a warm bed of electronic sounds (that range from a low-end hum to plenty of twinkling keyboards). It's light without being cheeseball and feels like the sort of quiet electronic music that would greet you on a sunny Saturday morning or accompany you on a drive down the coast.

The second track doesn't lose that playful feeling, but is a bit more loose in construction, sampling some random electronic noodling from an older Richard Kirk track and mixing in a stuttering beat and some stringed instrument sounds and bird noises. A bit disjointed, but still pretty decent. Although it goes on for a bit too long (as one could expect for a track that goes from the big bang to binary code lyrically) "Digital, Version 2" by Mia Doi Todd manages to keep an interest level fairly well and the velvety female vocals don't exactly make you want to skip over anything either.

In fact, two of the only tracks that sounds like what would be considered traditional hip-hop are the short "Shen" by Divine Styler and "Don't Get Up Again" by Damon Aaron. The earlier track shirks off convention by adding a touch of electro and even some more acoustic elements towards the end, while the latter track leans toward the side of severly moddy R&B. There are a couple tracks that would even make a big fan of Ninja Tune proud. The rumbling "Chord (parts 1-2)" by Ammoncontact is a stuttering, haunting track while "Seathrough Dolphin Smile" adds in some live sounding instrumentation to a darker beat.

Overall, the compilation flows very well, and there are several different styles and sounds that are explored. The closing track "Nawa" bye Adam Rudolph even manages to encorporate a bit of Eastern sounds into things, with layered chimes of some sort and a steady shaker. This isn't a compilation that ever really drops a huge beat speeds up over mid-tempo (except for the light drum and bass backing on "Digital"). Still, it's yet another case of interesting music (although it does slightly sag in some places) being made by lesser-known artists, and if this compilation can help spread the word, I'm all for it.

Rating: 7.25