Eliot Lipp: Tacoma Mockingbird

Though Tacoma Mockingbird is a considerably more evocative title, Eliot Lipp might just as easily have named his latest album Beats and Synths (XTC already having taken Drums and Wires), given the degree to which the two dominate the disc's thirteen samplings of electrified hip-hop funk. If the extent of Lipp's love affair with synths (specifically, the Korg MS-20 and Sequential Circuits gear) on his second full-length (following his 2004 self-titled debut and recent Hefty EPs) initially surprises, it ultimately distinguishes Tacoma Mockingbird as a strongly individualized take on instrumental hip-hop; the album also differentiates itself from others in the field by almost entirely excluding voice samples, despite song titles which suggest otherwise (“Rhyme War,” “Spit Rap”).

Don't think, however, that Lipp's restrained instrument palette translates into limitations elsewhere. He knows it's ultimately all about the tunes, an awareness repeatedly shown by a sparkling stream of compositional ideas that emerges throughout (hear, for example, the mileage he gets from the sparest means during the blunted “Check Weight” and the jaunty “Rhyme War”). There's hip-hop, of course, but also funk, disco, even Latin (check out the cowbells on “Last Night”) with Lipp's soulful pieces meticulously built from multiple layers of synth counterpoint (“Brand New” even echoes Tarkus-era Keith Emerson, of all things).

Highlights? Snappy thunderclaps that goose the surging flow of “Tic Tac,” the spiraling grooves and slippery edits in “Rap Tight,” dub-funk bass and bongo accents in the jubilant “Brand New,” the arcade melodies and infectious electro-shuffle that strut through “Times Four,” the mystical dub vibe in “Vallejo,” the bright snare splatter that drives the entrancing “Glasspipe”—you get the idea. Challenging himself to see how much he could generate from only synths and breaks, Lipp succeeds marvelously with a wonderful twenty-first century update of a classic electro sound.

February 2006