Joe Beats

Diverse Recourse

(Bully Records; 2007)

By Chet Betz | 6 November 2007

I'm not sure when Joe Beats became cool. For me, I mean. For some people he's always been cool. I wasn't convinced on that last song off Personal Journals (2002), but maybe at the time I was just more into the visceral tactics of Jel, Sixtoo, and Scott Matelic, who were gifting Sage Francis with some of their best work. Maybe Reverse Discourse, this album's obvious forebear that was released on Sage's Strange Famous Records in 2002, was too prototypically Joe Beats for me. I know it wasn't Hope that sold me, Francis' rhymes overshadowing whatever Beats was doing. The Glow's hip-hop writers seemed big on 2005's Indie Rock Blues, but while I could feel my estimation of Joe Beats' coolness (a.k.a. appreciation of his skills) growing, I was more than a little turned off by the recontextualizing of mopey indie like M. Ward and Black Heart Procession, inserting their music as repeated riffs in a hip-hop framework so as to call it the "blues." It was an interesting experiment, yes, but also kind of icky, especially when I have to listen to Neutral Milk Hotel's "Naomi" over a beat.

But this record is pretty hot, so I guess the man became cool to me when he finally put out an LP that has mostly nothing to do with Sage Francis or indie rock. Huh. That makes sense, actually.

There's no real overriding arc to this thing, no gimmicks and no Xaul Zan, no explicit genre-crossbreeding (though Joe Beats plunders plenty of records besides your typical '60s/'70s soul and funk). The track titles impart very little meaning; I don't think there's much intention behind the Sedaris reference of "Me Talk Pretty." If I imagine what Joey Beats might be trying to convey with "Don't Front," it goes something like: "Hey, don't front, this is some good shit." The closest thing we get to an emotional chronicle is one track called "Pour Me One" followed later by "Spikes for the Punch Bowl."

Good golly, though, what a lot of awesome drums and awesome samples, immaculately wed and remarkably fluid in how they move together, the wall of sound dense yet structured broadly and mixed deftly for maximum sense of space. I could pick any one track as an example, so let me just close my eyes and...okay, "The Buzz Off." Joe Beats introduces his central mariachi sample at the end of the track prior, "Big Eyed Son" (which, by the way, has an unstoppable bass-and-break groove), and he blasts off with it at the beginning of the song, the drums riding a ?uestlove train of snare and closed hi-hat. Joe Beats pings notes on either ends of the bars and switches out the sample with parroting keys that he throws his fat harmonic bass line over. It's a subtle inversion of conventional composition that works so well because Beats still has that constant drum line on top, still has those sharp pings causing little treble dips and crests. Thus, "The Buzz Off" affects echoes of its source sample without having to actually, you know, put a cheesy echo effect on that shit. As a purely musical idea, it's nigh eloquent.

That's 2 1/2 minutes. Now consider that "The Buzz Off" bleeds immediately into the shakers, bar-room piano, and soaring horn and vocal samples of "Merc Ret," which shies from giving everything all at once but paces for the purpose of brief bursts that'd fill every nook and cranny of a tavern with warm fuzzies. Move backwards on through "The Buzz Off" and "Big Eyed Son" to "Pour Me One," whose acoustic guitar loop and drums race through a valley where crashing sounds retort in the mountain air overhead and then shimmering sounds of indeterminate nature irradiate the night sky even higher up. On and on the album spreads out, each little piece connected to what's adjacent until you have one big caterpillar of trenchant beatsmithery, a body made of 18 pieces of abdomen, barely a head or ass to note -- every little working muscle both complex and simple without the slightest inkling of the notion of diminishing returns. The thing just moves and eats.

Because of the brevity of the tracks and their unity of sound, their non-purpose as interstitial as it is exuberantly existential ("Doing the Nothing," anyone?), you aren't gonna catch requests like you might if you were rocking Rjd2's sonically similar yet more song-oriented Deadringer (2002), no acknowledging peeps asking that you play "The Horror" or flannelled posers wanting "Ghostwriter" because it samples Elliott Smith and they heard it on that car ad. And this is not huge or important or Endtroducing (1996). Instead, bring it to the smaller party where everyone's going to be down for something smooth, and then just step away from the player; Diverse Recourse will amicably sprawl out like its own killer little DJ set, oozing out the gills with vibrant sounds that have just enough grimy kick to get heads nodding. Of that very particular brand of instrumental hip-hop I can think of only one possible non-mixtape equal, Jel's 10 Seconds (2001), and one superior, J Dilla's Donuts (2006). Play those three records back-to-back and the music will evaporate the night away.

Aaron Newell says that the demo version is even cooler. In some ways that's hard to imagine, Diverse Recourse being almost perfect at achieving its modest ends, but Joey Beats has made me a believer. Somehow, I think, he's only going to get better.