Hudson Mohawke, Butter
Using gaudy, glassy '80s R&B as a trampoline straight out of the stratosphere
Between recent releases from Dâm Funk, Flying Lotus, Zomby, Rustie, Joker and Guido, the electronic-funk avant garde is sounding healthier than it has in years. Add Glasgow's Hudson Mohawke (24-year-old Ross Birchard) to that list. His debut album, Butter, is a tour de force of shuddering drum programming and hypercolor synthesizers, a mischievous and jubilant record that uses the gaudy, glassy tones of '80s R&B as a trampoline straight out of the stratosphere. Like all funk after Parliament, it's still hell-bent on returning to the Mothership, but Hudson Mohawke has invented his own highly unorthodox means of transport.
Like Dâm Funk, HudMo is a faithful and adept scholar of classic funk styles, lacing his tracks with references to everything from D Train to Trouble Funk, Bootsy Collins to OutKast; his lurching beats are obviously indebted to Dilla, but Mohawke's concept of the boom-bap is also clearly tangled up with dubstep, a genre that, like drum 'n' bass, imagines rhythm as being a little like the American highway system, where the fast track runs parallel to meandering blacktop. As a listener, you have the option of proceeding at your own pace. Where so much electronic music focuses on repetition, Hudson Mohawke has a more eruptive sensibility, which he makes clear with the title track. "Shower Melody," far from the kind of thing you could sing under a spigot, goes at a synthetic string passage like a fist wadding up paper—it's less about form than about texture as a kind of absolute—until it explodes into cataclysmic drum fills and a screaming guitar solo reminiscent of Purple Rain-era Prince. His gestures can be frenetic, as evidenced by the shuddering chords and sped-up samples of "Gluetooth," but the results never feel as frantic as drill 'n' bass or breakcore; his beats roll back and forth on their heels, digging into a bobbing, half-speed cadence. Some of the shortest songs are the best: "3.30" is only 1:37 long, but it fits as much action into its Chipmunk samples and Neanderthal drum patterns as a Tex Avery cartoon. And "Fruit Touch" and "Acoustic Lady," both bumbling fugues of wordless vocal samples, show the originality of Mohawke's voice: they're exploratory maneuvers in hip-hop that pursue imaginary creatures far beyond the boundaries of the known world of beats.