Ninja Tune Week: Blockhead’s “Music By Cavelight”

Jeff Weiss also enjoys kerosene light, Lightning Bolt, Usain Bolt, and a Lighter Shade of Brown.  You invite false expectations when you call your record Music by Cavelight, more so when you include...
By    October 8, 2010


Jeff Weiss also enjoys kerosene light, Lightning Bolt, Usain Bolt, and a Lighter Shade of Brown. 

You invite false expectations when you call your record Music by Cavelight, more so when you include a song called “Sunday Seance.” Understandably, people expected Blockhead to be a dude who made beats while bathing in the blood of baby otters– boiling cauldrons full of pureed toad and molten wax. The Ninja Tune debut of Tony Simon was a supernatural and somber affair, to the point of eliciting a slanderous Moby comparison or two.  Hence, the mocking, “Carnivore’s Unite.”Those looking for the withering satire of the Party Fun Action Committee received a record that would’ve had the Knights of the Mystical Round Table lighting lanterns in caverns on the rings of Saturn. Other than a fitting Peanuts sample on “Intro: Hello Popartz” and a track titled “You’ve Got Maelstrom,” this is blunted headphone music, hermetically sealed for the cave and the blacklight.

In interviews, Blockhead eagerly stripped himself of elaborate pretensions, insisting that the beats emerged via trial and error. He was not lighting candles nor saying “om.” Which did wonders for his integrity, but little for the mythologies that critics love to latch onto. Had he created a backstory filled with mystical gibberish, he probably would’ve been rolling in vegan techno Volkswagon money. Instead, he embarked on a mission to fuck with preconceived notions, releasing Music for Cavelight one year after dropping the brilliant PFAC record and three after he and Aesop Rock defined post-graduate existence for creative class weedheads.

Composed around the same time as Labor Days, the beats on Music By Cavelight bear a jazz-dimmed majesty. Heavily reminiscent of the Cinematic Orchestra and Bonobo, it’s probably the most quintessentially Ninja Tune album ever created by someone with scarce prior knowledge of the the labels’ aesthetic. To be fair, Ninja Tune’s presence stateside was never as big as it was in the former Commonwealth. Blockhead’s one of the few Americans to record for the imprint, and his arrival there was serendipitous. Cavelight was originally created for could’ve been a contender Mush Records, the label that had released his official debut, Blockhead’s Broke Beats. When the LA-based label stopped returning phone calls, Cavelight was shopped to Warp, who wisely passed it onto the Ninjas.

Blockhead’s hip-hop sensibilities weren’t first spied through a cultural telescope like most of his new labelmates. He made boom-hop ran through a filter of DJ Shadow and Porthishead. It was composed from the carrion of dollar bin crates — an intricate architecture of layers, taken from eccentric and esoteric material.  Pastoral flutes fading into psychedelic guitars, weary sitars and ghostly choirs, silent film organs and gorgeous saxophone prayers. All done on the ASR-10 with Baby Dayliner on violin and Damien Paris on bass, building a 40 ounce groove into what might’ve otherwise been sober sample bricolage.

I’d go track by track, but that defeats the purpose of records like this. It plays out like the cool Manhattan variant of the Ninja Tune sound. Incidental mood music. The soundtrack to spy flicks in a foreign language, Persian hash bars, and Irish bullfights. As the sample says on “Jet Son,” it takes this rap shit way out.  On the American edition, Cavelight came with a bonus disc of instrumentals done for Aesop. It illuminated what should’ve already been obvious. They were one of the best rapper-producer combo of the 2000s because Bazooka Tooth’s hoarse helter-skelter slang animated Tony Simon’s charcoal canvasses. But on his first mission for Ninja Tune, Blockhead radiated an eerie forlorn glow–it’s the proper light for a seance. –Weiss

MP3: Blockhead-“Jet Son”
MP3: Blockhead-“A Sunday Seance”

MP3: Blockhead-“Forest Crunk”

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