Album Review: Paul White & The Purple Brain (Now Again 2010)


The sophomore release from London producer, Paul White, is a very interesting sonic collage heavily influenced by obscure psychedelic rock artist ST Mikael. Paul White & the Purple Brain is eclectic and airy, incorporating elements ranging wildly from Indian sitars and tablas to manipulated guitar riffs to fuzzy vocal samples, all done from a hip hop perspective.

At first glance, Paul White & the Purple Brain comes off as a strange, trippy spy soundtrack with nearly two-dozen short tracks. After a few more listens, different bits and pieces begin to jump out that were previously missed, and the number of layers and precision behind cohesively fusing them all together becomes striking. The songs don’t take too long to build, yet they feel like they are just long enough to generate and maintain interest, ending earlier than the typical three-minute pop song, but just at the point where attention wanes.

On “Dance Scene,” two opposing sitar lines compliment and feed each other as a melodic backdrop over a sparse, yet rich, bass line. It modulates into a short bridge before an echo-filled vocal line is introduced. The Eastern feel is embellished with a tabla drum line that follows the melody, adding a nice authentic touch. This is one song that could really benefit by building and extending it into a longer piece, allowing it to move in several other directions.

Often times, just as a song builds and develops to the point where it should move into another section, it ends (on the track “Bom Bom,” it ends abruptly in the middle of the verse) or flirts with a new element, suggesting transitioning into a new part, but gives a head-fake and fades out. It almost feels like Paul White & the Purple Brain is supposed to be a promotional sampler CD to a bigger piece, a larger scale of the sampling strategically composed on each track. The incompleteness it evokes is a big part of the charm behind this record, effectively leaving a desire for more.

Somewhat of an offshoot Autechre and RJD2, with DJ Shadow and Bill Laswell serving as godparents, the entire record challenges expectations on many levels. Chord progressions go in opposite directions than typically seen; brief, unrelated sound snippets and sound bites are thrown in sporadically with no connection to any part of the song; the mixing of parts and panning between left and right is very prevalent and utilized strongly to help carry on that 70’s psychedelica sound. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in each song, even though some come off as a work-in-progress.

“Every Breath” uses a vocal sample (presumably) from a S.T. Mikael song as the basis, building on it with a catchy keyboard line and a funky bass line. It’s simple and repetitive enough to ensure it’ll become stuck in your head, which really isn’t the worst thing. This song is a great example of how beneficial a producer’s craft can be when opening up and stepping outside the typical confines of rap songwriting. Paul White also exemplifies how interesting an instrumental Hip Hop record can sound by looking to nontraditional sources for influence.

Paul White & the Purple Brain is a lot of fun to listen to, and is very reminiscent of the old “incense and peppermint” psychedelic rock vibe of the 70’s, but with a very clever modern twist. Like watching a good David Lynch movie, there are a lot of mysterious and bizarre pieces that make up a larger abstract work of tripped-out brilliance, offering a new conclusion do draw after each exposure. Any new or aspiring Hip Hop or electronic producer really should check out this record to see just how far a little experimentation with imagination can go.


CD version: packaged in eco-friendly Stumptown Printers fold-over packaging.

3X LP version:The deluxe version of the LP contains an exclusive 12” single featuring Guilty Simpson’s version of “Ancient Treasure” and two exclusive remixes, with instrumentals of all three tracks on the b-side. This deluxe version is packaged in a thick, fold over mylar sleeve and is limited to 1000 pieces manufactured.

Paul White & The Purple Brain-Mushroom Forest:
[audio:|titles=14 Mushroom Forest]

Written By Andy Giesen

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