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Koushik - Out My Window

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Artist: Koushik

Album: Out My Window

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Dec. 4, 2008

Koushik melds blunt, funk-inspired drumming with an atmospheric, almost shoegazing texture in an attempt to join the orderliness of hip hop’s rhythm with the expansiveness of psychedelia’s hum. It is a method that should be jarring. But on Out My Window, Koushik searches for — and at times strikes — the fine balance between structure and flexibility, rigidity and looseness, body and soul.

Out My Window is a hazy and wandering album, seemingly in free roam despite the command of hip hop’s staccato patter. Its style recalls a runner’s thoughts, unmoored by the miles traveled but focused by the repetition of steps taken. Perhaps the strongest criticism of the record is that, like many a run, Koushik’s individual songs are too often indistinguishable. Though they’re decent listens while playing, pieces like “See You” and “Corner of Your Smile” are thoroughly average and recede blandly into the recesses of memory within minutes of their conclusions. Sometimes the pairing of opposites — in Koushik’s case, rhythm and tonal hues — yields a pointed contrast; other times, it renders those differences an unspectacular muddle.

Koushik succeeds in the moments when he sharpens this underlying tension, by introducing novel instrumentation or by playing with the exchange of drums and melodic wash. Some of these instances are fleeting. The harmonica-driven and Stevie Wonder-indebted “Buttaflybeat” and the awakening transition from jazz to hip hop of “Welcome” are both minute-long jots. Their length would relegate them segues under normal circumstances. But their tight construction and burst of expressiveness make them noteworthy, on par with Madlib’s vignettes, even if they feel less than complete.

The interplay between Koushik’s rhythm and melody is at its most dynamic when he emphasizes their opposition. Often, Koushik does this by adjusting the volume knob. “Bright and Shining,” the most muscular number on Out My Window, is a galvanizing riff of funk. It begins with popping cowbells, and as it progresses, Koushik’s sotto voce chorus and competing horn loop ascend higher until, having reached their peak, they disappear, leaving the drummer spotlighted, alone and fending for himself. By contrast, on “Nothing’s the Same,” Koushik silences the percussion to a near absence and allows a quiet whistle to carry the song from Mississippi banks into the rollicking crescendo of a Memphis dancehall. Without any shifts in tempo, Koushik simply but slyly creates movement by arranging the placement and loudness of his instruments. The end is nothing short of kinetic.

The more deliberate pop songs on Out My Window, like the buoyant “Be With,” are less compelling than Koushik’s experiments in drift and restraint. Pop requires Koushik to remain in place and strike the same notes and feeling for the song’s duration. When Koushik takes this tact, his work suffers from what this album does best in forgoing: inertia.

By Ben Yaster

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