For fans of Edan Portnoy, it’s been a long wait since 2005’s Beauty and the Beat. The Boston-by-way-of-Baltimore MC, producer and DJ was supposed to have a good excuse in Echo Party: After all, this mix was originally a holdover for the official follow-up before it mutated into the official follow-up itself.
The premise: Edan was either lazy, busy or in the throes of an artistic mental block, so his handlers at Traffic Entertainment Group suggested he put together a mix from their extensive back catalog. “We figure this would be a fairly quick and painless project,” they write, “that would be fun for Edan and also offer him some help in getting his name back out into the market while shedding some light on lesser known but full on dope titles buried deep in our back catalog.”
Seems simple enough, but I guess Traffic underestimated Edan’s attention to detail or willingness to self-indulge – only now, two years and a new label later, has Echo Party finally appeared. One or two listens through and you’ll get the basic idea: Edan has taken a few choice cuts and manipulated them into a 30-minute mix, complete with auxiliary guitar, Moog, kazoo, and glockenspiel. It’s one of the way-out weirdest hip-hop mixes you’ll hear for at least the next two weeks.
Quick confession: I’ve been listening to Echo Party on and off for nearly two months now. The original review suggested this mix wasn’t going to please anyone because Edan either tried too hard to screw around with the source material or didn’t try hard enough to make it more of an album, something to be taken on its own rather than under the auspices of a mix. Then Jake O’Connell professed it to be on “some other shit.” Rob Hatch-Miller liked it. There were a couple of people I talked to (in real life even) that seemed to love it. I began to think I was missing something.
But here we are, it’s nearly mid-January already, and I’m listening to Bob Sinclair insist that I funk it up for the umpteenth time, and I don’t know if I can agree that Edan is somewhere else, on some kind of tip that us mere mortals can’t keep up with. The problem is that despite pretty much holding to the 4/4 beat throughout, there is a distinct disconnect in what it sounds like he was going for in the first half of the mix and what he was going for in the second half. Somewhere around the 13th minute, you begin to wonder what’s going on, if he hasn’t completely lost the plot, or if he forgot what he was doing, or if he just got sick of the original idea and changed it halfway through to focus more on his own tape-echo manipulation skills or synthesized cutting or reverb dexterity and less on just making a straightforward mix.
The result is that it’s dirty and disorganized. What was most impressive about Beauty and the Beat, and Jake actually put this best in his review, is that Edan took something old and made it sound older. It was one of the biggest attractions of the record because it strove to do the opposite of what most people were after in ’05. Here, he’s gone backward by taking something old and trying to make at least half of it sound new, but as a listener, “at least” provides no clear answer or direction. Far from terrible, Echo Party sounds merely confused. Perhaps we’ll be able to better assess the intent of this release should he ever get around to making that third full-length. Here’s hoping.