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Yohimbe Brothers - Front End Lifter

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Artist: Yohimbe Brothers

Album: Front End Lifter

Label: Rope A Dope

Review date: Sep. 16, 2002

Musical Alchemy Yields Golden Hybrid

Two founding members of the Black Rock Coalition get it on, and now after over a decade of genre-blending work, their collaboration finally sees the light of day in Front End Lifter. Vernon Reid, leader of Living Colour, and DJ Logic combine rock guitars, turntable manipulations, and fucked-up sounds to create quite a variety of tracks here. This sort of genetic experimentation doesn't always work, of course, but when it does the relative newness can be refreshing; such is the case here. Instead of awkwardly marrying the worst of hip-hop and metal, as seems to be the trendy thing nowadays, these two take much of the best from numerous genres, and blend them into songs which are, for the most part, wholly successful.

"Ponk" kicks things off in immediate high gear, all crazy drum rhythms, scratch madness, and totally rockin' guitar. You can either headbang or swing to the funky beat, depending on your proclivities. As a combination of rock with hip-hop sensibilities, it's one of the more successful songs I've heard, excellent shit. Deep, slow funk abides in "6996 (Club Yohimbe)", which features Prince Paul in his Handsome Boy Modeling School persona, as well as Slick Rick and others. Amusing skits interject, providing views into the fictional Club Yohimbe. As in the following track, "Psychopathia Mojosexualis", the bass is the thing, low throbbing lines that will send you out to buy a subwoofer if you don't have one.

The crazy cartoonishness of "Welcome 2 the Freq Show" is like Raymond Scott on crystal-meth. Close your eyes and you'll see Bugs Bunny chasing his tail, eyes rolling after downing a tab of acid, or perhaps he merely did too much yohimbe himself? Then halfway through, suddenly the guitar takes off, and we're in a different cartoon land, then another, then back again. Quite fun.

Then there's the Funkadelicized "The Big Pill" (with Wunmi on vocals and Doug Wimbish on bass), and the marvelous bluesy stomper "Bamalamb". The harmonica and square-dance calls on the latter are particularly noteworthy, though the ultra-cool guitar shouldn't be overlooked either. Throughout this album, Reid's guitar pokes his head up at just the right times, either tossing off just-so leads, interjecting high-speed note clusters, or laying back with heavy power chords to beef up the bottom end. While Logic is credited with scratches, samples and sounds, which may be the majority of the music here, Reid's guitar -- as well as the "effects" and "insanity" he's credited with -- is an essential element.

And just to clarify the breadth and width of styles here I'll also highlight the spooky horrorshow porn soundtrack of "Transmission XXX" as well as "Invitation to a Situation", with a soul-singer chanting over a house-ish drum and synth rhythm augmented with heavy power-chord breaks on guitar. I'm not entirely sure that the latter is a successful grafting experiment, but it has its moments.

"Prelude to a Diss" is perhaps the only track I don't think works, a lumbering, aimless interlude of clattering percussion and odd guitar leads that doesn't ever come together. That leads into "Innerspin (A Tone Hymn)", which is an unusually quiet, down-tempo piece with an old-school synth lead and soul music testifying scratched in. The album also ends on a quieter, melancholy piece, "That Obscure Object of Desire". The drums clatter noisily, but somehow they don't disturb the overall mood being set by violin, synth, and other, more distant, sounds. While the pace picks up towards the end, allowing the drums to get more intense and rowdy, there's still no escaping the melancholy air, closing the album in an almost philosophical vein, if an instrumental song can be called that.

While there's altogether too much genre-blending these days that seems to be purely for the sake of being clever, it's quite a pleasure to come across an album like Front End Lifter. Reid and DJ Logic appear to have simply taken all of the music they love, and mushed it together to create more music they love. The results are what matters, and they're alternately fun, affecting, and exciting.

By Mason Jones

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