“Return of the Jedi.”
It has been a while since I explored the French side of hip-hop, and Gasoline was a beautiful place to start. English speakers who are not fluent in French (that would be me) are often intimidated by hearing words that they can’t comprehend, no matter how fresh the beats or dope the scratches are. Yoann Letard breaks through those barriers by crafting an instrumental project called “An Abstract Journey Into Hip-Hop,” and despite the name promising a painfully elitist experience songs like “The Hardest” are incredible down to Earth. It’s not hard for me to draw a direct line from the sound Dan the Automator and DJ Qbert sculpted for Dr. Octagon to this CD.
In addition even a nincompoop at reading or speaking French (again that’s me) can understand that “48 heures” means “48 Hours.” I don’t think the dialogue snippets are from a Francophone dub of the Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy comedy classic though. They certainly aren’t from the docu-news show that airs on CBS. Do they matter at all? To someone fluent I’m sure they are but aside from the fact a few of them sound angry I don’t get much from it. Besides I’m too busy bopping my head to the bass and the drums and smiling at how pleasant the singer saying “baby” over and over sounds. This is what A Tribe Called Quest would call “Vibes and Stuff.” I get a good feeling head to toe listening to it.
The one thing I certainly didn’t expect from Yoann Letard b/k/a Gasoline was a track called “Chicago’s Nites.” Chi-Town ranks high among my favorite cities to visit and if I was there right now I’d want this song in my headphones. The piano keys, the mournful horns, the strong percussive notes, the unexpected breakdown and (again) seemingly angry dialogue seem to fit Chicago nightlife perfectly even being in French. They might also fit a night in Montreal. Hell they’d fit any large metropolitan city with an urban nightlife. That’s the point.
If Gasoline was attempting to make the point “the language of musical is universal” he certainly succeeded. Each song on “Abstract” is a bop for one reason or another. From the turntablist wizardry of DJ Matsa & DJ Moth on “Neighbours In My Room” to a sparkling instrumental I’d love to hear Illogic or C.L. Smooth flow over on “Da Truth” to the haunting vocals of Maki on the JRPG influenced “Geisya,” there’s no wrong turn even if you skip at random. The crackling record sounds of the latter are *chef’s kiss* perfect.
Unfortunately I have some bad news for you. Owing to its low print run and relative obscurity legit copies of “Abstract” could run you as much as $60. I don’t think this review is going to change that problem and could ironically enough make it far worse. It’s the same problem with YouTube creators who discuss “hidden gems” in video games, followed by an immediate and unsurprising jump in price as everyone runs out to buy it. There’s a lot of hand wringing when this happens about whether or not it was better to keep it a secret and keep the price low or let people know it was good so that more people get a chance to experience it.
I’m going to argue for the latter in this case. Even if it hurts your ability to buy a physical copy of “Abstract,” you could always just stream it somewhere and still enjoy it for what it is. Besides there’s always the possibility that if the audience outside of France develops a taste for this release, a North American label could license a reprint at a reasonable price and drop it on Record Store Day. Would I pay $30 for a vinyl edition of Gasoline’s album that includes a digital download copy? In a heartbeat.