Artist: The HerbaliserTitle: Take LondonRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman
London duo The Herbaliser, aka producers Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba, may not be household names among many hip-hop heads, but over the course of ten years, theyve been responsible for some of the most innovative and diverse instrumental hip-hop youll ever hear. Alternating between moody, downtempo beats and high-energy funk drops, the duo return with Take London (Ninja Tune) and, for the most part, continue their streak of creative gems.
Originally a purely instrumental group, Herbaliser only benefited by adding emcees to the mix, as alumni Jean Grae and Roots Manuva return for half a dozen tracks. Over punchy horn blasts, Grae destroys Nah Mean, Nahm Sayin, as the funk backdrop recalls an updated version of Earth, Wind and Fire or Kool & the Gang.
While the duo hasnt abandoned their more blunted side, (The cinematic feel of Song For Marys languid horns and xylophone could be the opening score for a 70s spy flick), London is certainly their most funk-inspired effort. Gadget Funks nod to electro-funk sounds like Rick James jamming with Afrika Bambaataa. Lord Lords use of wah-wah and strings could be Bishop Don Magic Juans soundtrack before Roots Manuva enters to prove why hes one of the brightest emcees in British hip-hop.
This being the first album using mainly live musicians, many of the tracks on Take London do what tracks on earlier albums couldnt; namely, continually shift to maintain listener interest. Where on 1995s Remedies or 1997s Blow Your Headphones, a beat could loop for eight grueling minutes with minimal changes, in 2005, the equally long Sonofanuthamutha consistently astounds with sax, flute, xylophone, Eastern drums and an eerie Mother chant thrown in for good effect.
How this album will be perceived will probably depend on the listeners familiarity of the group. If youve never heard of The Herbaliser before, this will all sound original and the intricate productions and extensive use of instrumentation will definitely please beat junkies (though youd probably be better off checking out 2002s phenomenal Something Wicked This Way Comes.) If youve been with these cats the whole way, youll still be feeling London but some of it may sound a bit familiar by now. Either way, open-eared heads should take note.