November 24, 2009

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It’s hard not to read into the cover of the Tin Foil Hat EP– a mug shot with a serial number dangling around Ramble John Krohn’s neck– putative punishment for daring to take creative leaps off faulty footing. The Internet might be unparalleled for allowing artists to self-promote, but its punishing velocity leads to a fickleness that lends itself poorly to wrong turns. Even one-time deities The Strokes saw censure for following up two end-to-end burners with a just adequate third album. RJD2’s own third try, The Third Hand, was a similarly noble failure, an effort that seemed to point towards kicking dreary Daryl Hall solo simulacrums, opening up for the Junior Boys.  Accordingly, I doubt many people are checking for this odds and sods EP slipped into a lavish RJD2 boxed set, recently released independently on RJ’s own Electrical Connections imprint.

In his review of said box set, Nate Patrin considered whether or not RJD2 was underrated, the partial result of our whittled memories of the time when Definitive Jux was still Def. I’m inclined to say yes, considering the unlikelihood that Deadringer will rank in the deluge of Decade Lists dropping next month, and how rarely his name is invoked in discussions of the top producers of the period. Granted, he really only has one gold-standard official album, but his one-off Def Jux singles, the remixes compiled on Loose Ends, and the mix Your Face or Your Kneecaps, all range from good to great and showcase his inimitable ear and ability to wring intense emotions from the carrion of dead crates. Any idiot can flip a soul sample, but it takes a sorcerer to reanimate, and at his best, whether manning four turntables at once or crafting breakbeat bricolage, RJ was on some shaggy-sleeved Fantasia shit (no Barrino).

Of course, he’s not exactly hurting. From Levi’s commercials to the Mad Men Theme, the Columbus native probably can afford actual robots and a wardrobe rich with bespoke hoodies. But there’s something heartening about how Tin Foil Hat announces RJ’s return to form. It’s possible that these tracks were culled from his early catalog and in which case, next year’s Colossus could make The Third Hand look like H20. But for those who missed the crackling vinyl hiss of his early years, the crisp drums, the elegiac piano lines, and the supernal soul, you’ll remember why you started checking for the guy in the first place.

RJD2 has always made music to evoke memory and appeal to soft-headed sentimentalists, so maybe it was inevitable that with the passing of time his original fan base would repudiate him, associating him with college juvenalia, the wistfulness of early adulthood, or maybe just Don Draper. After all, the white-hot “it was all so simple then” pop of Memory Cassette and Washed Out bears a passing resemblance to RJ’s finest work, in its ability to plow platinum up out of the past and its evocation of dimly remembered days.  But more importantly, Tin Foil Hat removes the blotches left by The Third Hand and marks a tentative step towards reclaiming the crown.

Download:
MP3: RJD2-“The Girl From Art School”
MP3: RJD2-“The Highest of Courts”

From Loose Ends

MP3: Cannibal Ox-“The F Word” (RJD2 Remix)
MP3: RJD2-“Bus Stop Bitties”

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