Since 2008 Steve Ellison aka Flying Lotus has released a ridiculous amount of flawless and groundbreaking albums on his Brainfeeder label.
Originally the label started out creating independent instrumental hip-hop that drew the attention away from the artist and placed it firmly back on the music. Over the years the label has grown and swelled to not just hip-hop albums, but jazz, future soul, twisted electronic pop and full blown psych outs.
But the focus on the music has always remained. Here is a selection of releases that have helped shape Brainfeeder in to the label we know today. Each one has been picked from a different year of Brainfeeder’s 10 year existence and features something that taps into the original ethos of the label.
They might not be the ‘big Brainfeeder album’ of that year, but they do contain something remarkable, forward thinking and ultimately fun that deserves a closer inspection.
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Samiyam - 'Rap Beats Volume 1' (2008)
It feels fitting that Samiyam’s ‘Rap Beats Volume 1’ was the first official Brainfeeder release, as it effortlessly sums up the label’s early ethos, instrumental heavy independent hip-hop.
‘Rap Beats Volume 1’ sounds both futuristic and retro at the same time, by showcasing Samiyam’s deft ear for melody and wonky rhythms. The majority of the tracks are sub 90 seconds, but this adds to their charm as they never outstay their welcome. Not the best album on the label, but a very strong indication of the shape of things to come.
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Ras G - 'Brotha From Anotha Planet' (2009)
Ras G is LA beat music royalty. His releases range from sketchy hip-hop workouts to full blown majestic pieces of art. On ‘Brotha From Anotha Planet’ Ras G is honing his skills for merging hip-hop, afro-futurism and a disregard for convention, while having a load of fun in the process.
At just 35 minutes this is a tight and succinct trip into the outer limits of his creative consciousness. It showcases all the trademarks that would future prominently releases, the “Hey Ras” sample, gently swirling electronic maelstroms, basslines to die for and space being a major theme/catalyst for music, but there is a playfulness that sadly vanished as the albums got slicker.
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Teebs - 'Ardour' (2010)
When Brainfeeder put out its 10th release it had worked out the glitches and bumps and it felt like it knew exactly what it was about. That isn’t to say there aren’t glitches on Teebs’ debut album ‘Ardour’. Of course these glitches are intentional. Delicate chimes, captivating melodies and subtle basslines make ‘Ardour’ a fascinating and slightly hypnotic album.
It might not pack the immediate punch of releases by Ras G, Mr. Oizo or Thundercat, but there is something charming and mesmerizing lurking just below the surface.
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Austin Peralta - 'Endless Planets' (2011)
‘Endless Planets’ feels like the album FlyLo wanted to release when he originally envisioned Brainfeeder. Austin Peralta was a straight up piano prodigy having released two full albums by the time he was 16. By the age of 21 he was on fire and with FlyLo producing the seven songs that make up ‘Endless Planets’ display a sophisticated and enlightened Peralta. The compositions are rigidly structured, but also allow for improve solos and runs.
Sadly this is final album Peralta made, as he died just over a year it was released. After listening to ‘Endless Planets’ we can only guess where Peralta would have gone next, given his Deathgasm Ensemble and his work with Strangeloop.
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Miguel Baptista Benedict - 'Super (b) -Child-Ran' (2012)
‘Super (b) -Child-Ran’ opens with disjointed piano and wonky melodies. It feels like an old music box slowly imploding in on itself and it’s glorious for it. At first the album feels like a collection of rough demos, or vague jams. There are layers of swoony electronics, psychedelic motifs, maudlin piano, hushed vocals, noise freak-outs and delicate beats but after repeat listens you realise that everything has been sequenced and arranged to perfection.
In a weird way this feels like the album the sums up Brainfeeder more than anything that came before or after it. It is in keeping with the original beat ethos, but it is given the freedom to go off from the script.
Personally this is my favourite Brainfeeder release as it opened a beguiling and underrated artist, who deserves more attention than he receives.
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Thundercat – 'Apocalypse' (2013)
Stephen Lee Bruner’s second album under his Thundercat moniker is as dark and broody affair, you’d expect from the title. His debut was excellent, but felt like an artist finding his feet. ‘Apocalypse’ takes those ideas and focuses them full.
‘The Life Aquatic’ sums up Bruner’s sonic vision on ‘Apocalypse’. Electronics dance over a heavy bassline and skittering beats. On ‘Lotus and the Jondy’ Bruner lets the out the spirit of jazz out, as concave beats mingle with falsetto vocals, winding basslines and huge breakbeats. ‘Apocalypse’ is still a forward thinking body of work that hints to what is to come, while living in the moment.
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Taylor McFerrin - 'Early Riser' (2014)
It took six years for Taylor McFerrin to complete his debut album ‘Early Riser’. That feels like time well spent as ‘Early Riser’ is full of clever cascading electronics, ethereal melodies, R&B motifs, freeform jazz workouts and hip-hop sensibilities are utilised to create a future soul album that still sounds like little else released before and after.
Hopefully we should have a follow up by 2020, but until then, sit back and let ‘Early Riser’ drift over you.
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Kamasi Washington - 'The Epic' (2015)
‘The Epic’ lives up to its name. Clocking in just less than three hours, Kamasi Washington’s breakthrough album is loosely based on a story of an old guardian of a city who is waiting to be defeated by the new champion. This happens in a dream, but the old guardian dies before it can happen in real life.
Kamasi Washington and his band of virtuosos create 17 songs that are full of visceral power, catchy melodies and unbridled fun, that helped make jazz vibrant and exciting again. Epic indeed!
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Jameszoo - 'Fool' (2016)
‘Fool’ by Dutch producer Mitchel Van Dinther AKA Jameszoo on the surface ‘Fool’ is a jazz album, but like a lot of things about it, this is just subterfuge, as ‘Fool’ is a homage to 90s electronica albums. Flake’, ‘Meat’ and ‘Toots’ are prime examples of this. Wonky time signatures allow wayward bleeps and blips to dance about, giddy with their new found freedom, whilst basslines and scattershot beats keep everything grounded and moving forward. an album that requires repeat listens.
There are delightful, if a tab complex, melodies knocking about, but once you crack their codes ‘Fool’ is a real gem in Brainfeeder’s crown.
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Iglooghost - 'Neō Wax Bloom' (2017)
Usually when writing music you only have to worry about whether it conveys your emotions and feelings at that time. Day-Glo producer Iglooghost has to make sure it fits in with an ever evolving narrative. Like sometime collaborator Mr. Yote, Iglooghost has created a world where the majority of his musical output dwells.
‘Neō Wax Bloom’ is about a worm called Xiangjiao, a pom-pom monk called Yomi and a witch called Lummo. As you can judge, this is the most poppy, brutally abstract and disjointed released Brainfeeder has put out. It pushes the boundaries of what bass music can, and should be!
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Georgia Anne Muldrow - 'Overload' (2018)
‘Overload’ is what happens when the avant-garde meets pop and R&B on a Venn diagram. Throughout ‘Overload’ underground soul legend Georgia Anne Muldrow’s rising vocals are backed by electro rolls, warming keyboards, huge beats and the kind of basslines that make you feel welcomed and cosy. But this is everything we’ve come to expect from Muldrow. Her ability to skew and subvert pop music to own purposes is as glorious as it was when she first emerged in 2005.
...and a few for the heads!
Dr. Strangeloop - 'Are We Lost Mammals Of An Approaching Transcendental Epoch?' (2009)
The third Brainfeeder release is Dr. Strangeloop’s 17 minute hypnotic, and claustrophobic opus ‘Are We Lost Mammals Of An Approaching Transcendental Epoch?’. Built around a pulsating beat, Strangeloop builds up and down a series of melodies and recurring motifs. As it mutates along the music changes from ethereal drone to blistering drum and bass workouts.
It showcases not only Strangeloop’s ear for melody and Brainfeeder’s disregard for convention. Dim the lights and get lost in this overlooked release.
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My Dry Wet Mess - 'Stereo Typing' (2012)
Puns in music can be hit and miss. Luckily ‘Stereo Typing’ isn’t just a clever title. Far from it. It’s a collection of 14 forward thinking songs that subverts the genre and the audience’s perceptions of electronic music.
‘Stereo Typing’ is a monster full of maelstroms of electronics, tight beats and a dollop of confusing. It’s the confusing that is the most devastating part of this equation. Just when you think you have a handle on it, BAM; it’s off on a different tangent.
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Mr. Oizo - 'The Church' (2014)
FlyLo has never hidden his admiration of Mr. Oizo. His 2005 masterpiece ‘Moustache (Half a Scissor)’ was re-issued on Brainfeeder in 2011, so it was only a matter of time until a new Oizo album was on the label.
‘The Church’ is that album. This is Oizo doing what he does best. Wonky dance music full of massive basslines, buzz saw electronics, massive beats and a quirky sense of humour are the order of the day. Sadly at times ‘The Church’ isn’t sure what the punchline is, but when it does, this is a devastating and enjoyable album.
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Daedelus - 'The Light Brigade' (2014)
Making is name as part of LA’s Dublab scene; Daedelus quickly rose to prominence by crafting quirky electronic music peppered with hip-hop motifs. On his 15th album, ‘The Light Brigade’, he channelled the spirit of the Crimean War to create something moving and surprisingly understated. Gone are the big showpiece beats and bassline, and in their place are acoustic guitars, haunting vocals, and insular reflections and a general feeling of contemplation. While this isn’t vintage Daedelus, ‘The Light Brigade’ is one of his most interesting and rewarding albums to date.
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Locust Toybox - 'Drownscapes' (2017)
‘Drownscapes’ is everything you’d expect from David ‘Salad Fingers’ Firth. Throughout its 90 minute duration you are taken through the cult animator skewed world view, ranging from serene dreamscapes (‘Birthday Lungs’ and ‘You’ll Never Look’), haunting electronic work outs (‘Return to the Meadow’), uplifting meditations (‘Fika’) and wonky experimentations (‘Saptiro’); only after its ethereal outro do you realise the journey you’ve been on.
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Words: Nick Roseblade
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