If RapReviews.com had a section entitled 'short cuts' or a similar term describing brief reviews of 'other stuff you might want to check out', then what you're reading now would be certainly found there. There's only so much you can say about a half-hour-long instrumental CD that emerges from the uncharted depths of homemade hip-hop. What can be said is that "Unagi" isn't demanding in such a way that you couldn't do any other things while listening to it. Whatever you can fill half an hour with, "Unagi" will provide some nice background music. Unfortunately, that's it. As many different samples as there are used, mostly all of the tracks evoke the term 'easy listening'. Something you don't really see coming, as the album immediately cuts to "Crazy Chase", a rough ride that will make you wish you had put your seat-belts on. The track swerves all over the road, rattling rhythm section and groovy bits and pieces of electric guitar and piano all included, automatically evoking images of your favorite seventies crime flicks.
After this breathtaking opener, the mood is permanently switched to chill-out music, as short instrumental after short instrumental whispers sweet nothings in your ear. It's hard to imagine a barely 40-second long instrumental evoking "Good Vibes" (as its title suggests). Tracks with a little more substance include "Nagasaki Narcoleptic", a gently bobbing background with drops of piano sprinkled atop, the thin-layered "Invisible Frenchman", which succeeds in weaving a dial tone into the delicate sound fabric, or the neo-romantic "The One". "Blown Away" sports a loop that might very well become the foundation of a full-fledged rap track one day, something from the Diggin' In The Crates camp, for instance. Among crate diggers, guessing the sample is a popular pasttime, and while other parts of this CD might pose some problems, any producer who ever flipped through stacks of old records will be able to make out the sample used for "Gaye Pride".
As far as samples go, nowadays it's all about how you flip them. For producers such as Unagi, who rely heavily on samples, the challenge lies not only in finding the rarest grooves, but in making elements from different songs sound like one. But it doesn't stop there. The masters of the game, DJ Shadow, DJ Krush et al., succeed in transferring ancient sound artifacts to a new era by recycling them completely, resulting in a resurrection where something completely new originates. This is where hip-hop lives up to its postmodern promise. Unagi opts for another route, one that leads him back into decades past. Admittedly, some great music was concocted in the seventies and eighties, but given the options, I rather listen to the originals. Unagi dexterously glues grooves together, but he hardly creates something new. Add the fact that his tracks don't meet the sound quality standards demanded at public places (clubs, bars), and you have a CD that is only suited to be consumed where it also was conceived at - at home. Still, "Unagi" does offer a glimpse into the future of this particular brand of funk, on the very last track on this CD, "Sacred Music". Albeit short, this is a timeless piece of music made of the most delicate ingredients such as human sighing, acoustic guitars, hi-hats fine as a hair, sparse snares and claps and a flute winding its way through the soundscape. This is where the sequel to this project should pick up.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5 of 10
Originally posted: March 25, 2003