Review Summary: Album of the year.“Lean forward slightly. Look straight at the speaker. And listen with a sparkle in your eye, as though you might be thinking, ‘Gee, this is the most wonderful thing I ever heard in all my life.’”
Let’s face it. This year hasn’t been too great for music. Sure, it’s not even time to ogle Miss June yet and we’ve already seen a few gems sift through the muddy musical sands; Bon Iver and Sun Kil Moon have delivered on the indie-folk front, trip-hop giants Portishead have exceeded all expectations thrown mercilessly upon them, and maybe even Weezer are going to surprise us all with a half-decent post-90’s ruby record. But I think it’s safe to say we’ve definitely had better years, especially from a hip-hop point of view. Believe me, though, when I say this should take absolutely nothing away from the architectural masterpiece of a mixtape Buddy Peace has constructed in “Wolf Diesel Mountain”, my album of the year so far.*
For over five years Buddy Peace has been stretching the boundaries of what it means to create an original mixtape, twisting and shaping various sounds and knitting them together with his uniquely frayed threads to produce such left-field hip-hop wonders as the ‘A Friendly Game of Chess’ (with 2600 labelmate ‘ZILLA’) and ‘A Crew Called Self’ mixes. But with ‘Wolf Diesel Mountain’, Buddy has mixed his most diverse, ambitious, and intensely enjoyable record to date. In just under an hour, Buddy herds up all the best hip-hop, indie, folk, electronic and post-rock bands, the ones we’ve been too lazy to check out, and pairs them off in soul-mate fashion, like some sort of infallible matchmaking guru. Who would’ve thought MF Doom would be perfectly at home slumped on the IKEA sofa of Jose Gonzalez’s living room?
Inviting us into the mix, proclaiming “I wanna show you something”, Buddy flings open the concrete doors of the album, allowing us unlimited access to his floating world of spoken-word oddities and miscellaneous sounds. The samples themselves range from creepy to charming, witty to evocative, intelligent to downright strange, inspiring to inspired, but most of all, and most importantly, always relevant to the piece. Shine a flashlight down the tunnel of the mix and it becomes obvious the stunning lengths which Buddy has travelled to make sure all the sounds fit together with a mysteriously messy cohesion, akin to your forever-untidy bedroom. On ‘Track 14’ heartbeat drums, finger clicks and handclaps comfortably walk side-by-side Kool G Rap’s lyrics, to the romantic backdrop of dusty, swirling guitars and featherlight ambience. This, in turn, rolls into ‘Track 15’ which sees Nas take the mic off Kool and rap with his back to a bluesy voice, and one of the mix’s defining samples. “In the song writing field there isn’t a section for fiction and a section for non fiction. It’s all mixed together.” Amen, Buddy. It is clear the mixer has searched high and low to find samples which are relevant to the mood, such as this one, and this hard work is certainly not in vain as the tracks themselves benefit from the samples, adding much increased depth and character.
Other highlights include the aforementioned Jose Gonzalez/MF Doom link up (Track 7), which, if handled without care would have plunged into the all-too-inviting sea of soppy sentimentality. But instead, Buddy pierces the track with scattering drums and chopped samples of Gonzalez’s poignant vocals, thus diffusing any possible over-romanticization, and leaving only the intended feeling of genuine affection and distress. ‘Sufjan Stevens’ quivering voice makes an appearance on “Track 11”, teaming up with other hip-hop artists, xylophones, handclaps and dreamy harmonies to etch out a track of weightless elegance. “Track 12” follows the same basic rhythm, bending it to fit the track, while ‘Her Space Holiday’s “Something to Do with My Hands” plays atop, making for a surprisingly smooth and wonderful track. “Track 23” begins with the paranoid rapped lyrics of ‘Sage Francis’s “Gunz Yo’”, stomping incessantly along until they hit a standstill where ‘TV On the Radio’s infectious whistling from “A Method” takes the baton all the way into “Track 24” where its handed back to Sage Francis, who hastily gives it to a drum-backed ‘Mercury Rev’ where it is then hurled to a vocally fogged ‘Beck’. All these samples yet Buddy manages to create something completely original, like a myriad of collaged collages.
Immersive and compelling, in many ways this album is like a brilliant novel. It runs from introduction to conclusion with the unpredictable twists-and-turns intricacy of a gripping narrative. It also has the chameleonic ability to adapt to whatever you want to take away from it; it’s so unburdened you can dive in, pick a track and pump up the volume for a head-nodding workout, so engaging you can whack on the big headphones, close yourself off and become submerged in another reality, and so enjoyable you can take the ride out for a spin, roll down the windows and prove to the world that excellent left-field indie car music really does exist. Yet throughout its 57 minute length, despite its ocean-spanning scope and regardless of its mind-boggling depth, the album’s beauty hatches from its modesty. None of the album’s tracks scream for your attention like a stubborn child, instead, they rely on catching your ear with their originality and intelligence, like a child genius.
Maybe I’m incompetent, and I probably am, but the surface of this record hasn’t even been scratched in this review. The painstakingly meticulous attention to detail put into this mixtape has given it the sort of tremendous depth that comes with blood, sweat and tears. I haven’t even mentioned a number of great artists on the album, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the nostalgic joy that comes with finding them. The only real advice I can give to you: listen to it. It would be an absolute travesty if this exceptional mix didn’t push Buddy Peace into the spotlight, at least enough for us to see the humble hand we should be shaking.