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Hudson Mohawke - Butter

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Artist: Hudson Mohawke

Album: Butter

Label: Warp

Review date: Nov. 20, 2009

A quick survey of Butter‘s album art will tell you that 23-year-old producer/DJ Hudson Mohawke (a.k.a. Ross Birchard) isn’t taking himself too seriously. At least, one would hope not, because yes, that is in fact a stick of butter dripping from the talons of a mohawk-sporting falcon. Normally, I’d condemn such a scene as painful kitsch, but the playfulness actually seems to work in Birchard’s favor here on his debut full-length, one of the more heavily-hyped electronic records of 2009.

Clocking in at 51 minutes, Butter covers an ambitious amount of ground. Birchard zips fluently through synthesizer-blitzed hip hop, ‘80s pop arrangements, head-spinning vocal snippets and woozy future-funk, weaving them together surprisingly well throughout the album’s 18 tracks. Attempting such a broad scope can be fairly exhausting for the listener, but Birchard’s infectious zeal is electric enough to justify the initiative. Plus, if you take into account the pressure accompanying such a rapidly-mounted, pre-release media buzz, the instinct to overshoot on your debut full-length is somewhat forgivable.

Sonically, Butter’s tripped-up rhythms are on par with label-mate Flying Lotus and other L.A. producers and DJs — including DâM-Funk, who lends vocoder-laced vocals to “Tell Me What You Want From Me.” Geographically speaking, nods to Birchard’s UK contemporaries are probably more apt, including Bristol’s purple funk pioneers Joker, Gemmy, and Guido, along with fellow Glaswegian and LuckyMe collaborator Rustie. Current comparisons aside, Birchard’s beats still have their own unique twist, rooted heavily in golden age hip hop, crunk hits and Warp records’ back catalog. And if I drop one Dilla reference in this review, it’s due to the near-perfection of Birchard’s drums. So crisp and prominent in the mix, the percussion is notably processed, but taut and sculpted. The grandiose boom-bap of “No One Could Ever” is a prime example, crafted from pristine snare rolls and a solid kick drum.

The most interesting standouts on Butter, however, stem from the record’s vocal collaborations. The contributions from D.C. neo-soul singer Olivier Daysoul, man-of-the-moment DâM-Funk, and especially Nadsroic’s coos on “All Hot,” each highlight the fact that, at its core, Butter is most definitely a pop record. Birchard’s tunes are all instrumental bangers that just seem to be waiting for a good hook, or a next-generation emcee to deliver the goods. The fact that Daysoul’s saccharine delivery on “Joy Fantastic” disturbingly reminds me of Lady Gaga’s raps on “Poker Face” proves the potential for crossover appeal even more.

It’s obvious that Birchard put an incredible effort into Butter’s production, but it doesn’t come across as over-thought — mainly just youthful, eager, and not without a sense of humor. With such a promising debut under his belt, and still only in his early 20s, you can bet that Birchard’s studios skills will have plenty of folks knockin’ in the future. That said, I guess the next step is to sit and wait for that Rihana collaboration to actually materialize.

By Cole Goins

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