Oddisee: The Beauty In All
Mello Music Group

The latest album from Washington D.C. producer Oddisee (Amir Mohamed el Khalifa) is an instrumental collection, but unlike sets of similar design by hip-hop artists, Oddisee's doesn't play like some Dilla homage. If anything, The Beauty In All argues that one should regard Oddisee less as a beatmaker and more as a composer. That is, the album tracks focus on the composition as a total sound construction and end-in-itself, not as the potential backing for an MC's flow. As if to reinforce that point, the opening cut uses a beat that's so minimal it's downright skeletal, but “After Thoughts” is such a beautiful five minutes of downtempo music it hardly needs an intricate beat pattern to make its case. Suspended by a looped piano tinkle and sweetened with synth textures, the quietly uplifting track makes for an arresting starting point for Oddisee's twelve-track set.

Elsewhere, Oddisee explores a number of different directions, some fast and others slow, some restrained and others punchy. Though synths are deployed liberally, the material exudes a largely acoustic as well as jazz-inflected vibe with piano (acoustic and electric), drums, guitar, and bass oft-emphasized within the arrangements. Acoustic touches help distinguish one track from another: the tag at the end of “Fashionably Late,” for example, resonates with flute and percussion accents, while a thumb piano stands out from the proggy Moog landscape sketched within the funky body-mover “Fievre.”

Yet while head-nodding beats aren't necessarily the album's focal point, they're still a foundational part of the overall sound. Armed with boom-bap swing and muted horns, “In My Day” swaggers with serious intent, as does “The Gospel,” though this time accompanied by an impassioned vocal choir. In similar manner, the string-drenched “Patience in Play” receives a powerful boost from Oddisee's beat thrust, while the silken “Caprice Down” brings out the producer's soulful and jazzier sides. And as fully developed tracks such as “No Rules for Kings” and “Fork in the Road” demonstrate, he also does a credible job of simulating a live band sound in these tracks. Speaking of The Beauty In All, Oddisee states, “This record is dedicated to imperfection and the sense of pride and accomplishment we get from our struggles.” Truth be told, little struggle is involved for anyone tasked with the prospect of listening to this excellent collection.

November 2013