Slicker: We All Have A Plan

Adopting an approach much like Barry Adamson's on Oedipus Schmoedipus, John Hughes (aka Slicker) collegially shares the spotlight on his fourth album We All Have A Plan with an extended family of guests including Telefon Tel Aviv, Dan Boadi, Phat Kat, Elzhi (from Slum Village), Phil Ranelin, Wendell Harrison, and L'altra's Lindsay Anderson. Unquestionably, though, the guiding sensibility throughout is Hughes' and it's certainly arresting, as We All Have A Plan finds him distilling hip-hop, soul, electronica, jazz, and funk into a truly pan-global brew of voodoo glitch.

And, yes, he is the son of film-maker John Hughes of The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink fame, but Hughes the younger long ago distinguished himself when he created Chicago-based Hefty Records in 1995, ostensibly to release music by Bill Ding, his group at that time. Since then, the label has garnered justifiable acclaim for releases from Telefon Tel Aviv and his own Slicker sets, 1998's Confidence in Duber and 2001's more laptop-based The Latest. With We All Have A Plan, however, Hughes wanted to create something rootsier and more primitive while still sounding futuristic. He succeeded marvelously, as this bold exercise in future soul incorporates acoustic instruments like flute and sax yet is directed clearly towards the future in the collagistic sensibility and cut-and-paste production methodology that permeate it.

Some of the strongest tracks appear at the outset. “God Bless This Mess, This Test We Pass” establishes immediately the album's unique gumbo groove by pairing Harrison 's jazzy flute and Ranelin's throaty sax with the soulful vocal trio of Chicago-based Ghanaian Dan Boadi, Hughes, and Khadijah Anwar; near its end, Hughes adds some glitchy crackle for good measure to give the piece a modern sheen. In just over five minutes, he proves capable of integrating jazz, soul, world, and electronica in seemingly effortless manner. The mood then shifts with the tight funk of “When The Dog Goes Lame” which is overlaid by Detroit MC Phat Kat's rap and texturally fleshed out by growls and laughter noises. It's the following track, however, “Knock Me Down Girl,” that's the recording's peak. A muted trumpet appears first, soon joined by a clipped funk beat and multi-tracked vocal lines from Hughes and Anwar that develop into irresistible hooks. Later on, a quieter passage pushes Ben Dixon's violin and Brandon Vamos's cello to the forefront until the piece ends with jazzy trumpet playing alongside the strings. Also worth noting is the sultry blues-funk “A Strong Donkey” where Lindsay Anderson's jazz-blues croon is joined by male vocal refrains, Satchmo-like growls, and Cromwell's brazen trumpet calls.

It's interesting that the least successful piece is “Straight Mess” (which reintroduces the “God Bless This Mess, This Test We Pass” refrain) as it's the one most dirtied up with glitchy distortions in its first half and, in its more experimental second half, resembles a modern classical piece created from string fragments and computer processing treatments. Compared to the others, it sounds more calculated in spite of its ‘modern' flavour. Regardless, Hughes demonstrates an undeniably deft talent for construction throughout the album, as he creates natural sounding tracks where disparate elements are seamlessly woven into the fabric of each song. We All Have A Plan is a remarkable and largely successful pan-global excursion that sounds like nothing else out there.

May 2004