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Jel - 10 Seconds

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Artist: Jel

Album: 10 Seconds

Label: Mush

Review date: Nov. 27, 2002

Royal Jelly

The E-mu SP drum machine and sampler was first introduced in 1987. It came with only 10 Seconds total of sampling time, which was then further divided into four channels of 2.5 seconds each basically nothing to work with. Worse still, the SP could sample only at 12-bit resolution, far short of CD-quality 16-bit resolution. On paper, E-mu's SP series was a piece of shit. It was crude, it turned lush stereo sounds into distorted fuzz and to top it all off, the SP was an expensive chuck of circuitry. Of course it was a runaway success precisely because of the SP's lo-fi sound. E-mu only stopped production of the SP in 1998 when the company finally ran out of its SSM filter chips. In short, the SP along with the Akai MPC became the standard tools in hip hop production.

Assigned to make music out of something about as technologically advanced as a Colecovision, somehow Anticon's in-house beat genius Jel makes it all sound effortless. 10 Seconds is in equal parts a tribute to the SP itself and a balls-out demonstration of Jel's talent. The album title is perfectly appropriate though the album is about an hour long in total, Jel bounces along the disc's 23 tracks with an attention span that's as short as the sampling time on his box. Making entire beats with such spare resources is an accomplishment by itself, but to actually make beats that smack of funk is something else.

Jel uses a wide range of styles on 10 Seconds and he moves easily between them. The eerie feeling of "Exit Multi Mode," with its decayed piano loops floating on top of grinding bass, all punctuated by Jel's signature hummingbird-quick drumming, works well against the spaced out Indian sub-continent vibrations on "Dynamic Button." Of course, there are straight forward bangers, such as "Channel Assign," which sports Damon Che-level drumming insanity. The shorter beats, such as "Decay/Tune Select" and "1st Song/Step" tend to rock harder and faster, leaving you wanting more.

Towards the middle, 10 Seconds sags under the weight of its blander tracks. The album fortunately picks up momentum towards the end, until its climax on the next-to-last song entitled "Subsong." This six-minute opus with a melancholy steel guitar riff at its root and occasional scratches of the Anticon MCs, is nothing short of fantastic. The large-scale feel and many layers of "Subsong" is reminiscent of Sixtoo's epic "Secrets that Houses Keep" off of his Duration album. "Subsong" is to be heard.

In today's era of flossy, Neptunes-type beats, Jel's gritty, stripped-down style harkens back to an earlier era in hip hop. There is a certain element of honestly and ingenuity that comes from making something new out of a crate of vinyl from Goodwill and an inadequate piece of equipment. It makes one wonder if the beats on 10 Seconds would almost sound better on a pair of blown-out speakers.

By Noah Zimmerman

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