One half of the Maryland-based alternative hip-hop duo D.T.M.D. (Dunc & Toine Makin’ Dollas), Dunc steps into the spotlight in the same tradition as J. Dilla and DJ Shadow before him. Like them, he’s moved forward to show off his production skills in the form of a beat tape. However, calling this release a “beat tape” is certainly a misnomer. For one, “Cycles” isn’t a tape, at least not in the format in which I came into possession of it (a compact disc). Secondly, these aren’t just simply beats from the producer/DJ. As a whole, they represent a natural progression. It’s not just a bunch of tracks built off of samples and drum snares. Clocking in at exactly thirty-five minutes, each track has an organic feel that’s reflected in both the music and even each of the titles.
The album’s organic sound is signified by its hip-hop inflections combined with what sounds like jazz improvisation. This is attributable to Dunc’s production which incorporates live music. Live bass, trumpets and keyboard arrangements are seamlessly mixed in to give the sound a spot-on effect. Listening to the title track, “Cycles”, gave me the impression I was hearing a hip-hop jam band. Beginning with a seductive bass riff, it then undergoes a progressive layering of drums, well-placed trumpeting and then keyboarding. There’s also a certain minimalism to some of the production that adds to the mellow vibes of the sound. On “Tree Rings”, a firestorm of snares and cymbals coalesce with copious keyboard sounds to venture into trip-hop territory.
Interestingly enough is how some of the tracks make sonic segues into the next without sounding out-of place. Powered by layered finger-snap snares, “Decompose” immediately follows the previously-mentioned track and is comprised of the same mellow, trippy, atmospheric ambiance. One-third of the album consists of instrumentals under two minutes, but those serve as interludes to the different phases of its musical cycle. The track “Respiration” provides a respite from the acid-trip resonance, and then makes its way into perhaps the most sonically-detailed track on the album, “Rain”. With a backdrop of falling rain, alternating drum snares and bells, I couldn’t help but to close my eyes and nod my head to this one. Being capped-off with a bluesy vocal sample didn’t hurt either.
Speaking of which, the penultimate track, “Time Moving Fast” follows the same sample placement, only it uses a vocal sample from a television show instead. Also, because of the pace of the handclap drums, it’s the one track that triggers a two-step dance motion rhythm in this listener. “Hello’s Goodbye” has a certain irony to it. While the album intro “Tides” evoked imagery of waking in the morning, the former has a curtain’s call feel. As though the eleven previous tracks were collectively an opening salutation until now.
As a whole, Dunc has shown growth as producer on this release. While the album has neither lighthearted nor dark overtones, he could easily slide into those areas and still make it work. While having sung or rapped vocals laid down over his tracks can add to their dimensions, even without them, his beats still speak for themselves.