Beats, Riffs, and Life

RJD2 rocks out.

At the risk of making guitar purists stain their "Disco Sucks" T-shirts with tears of rage, let me propose that the best rock album released so far this year was made with a sampler. We probably should've seen this coming: Underground rap "it producer" RJD2 has been sneaking allusions to hard rock into his beats for years—King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" in Aesop Rock's "Kill 'Em All (Remix)"; Bloodrock's "D.O.A." in Soul Position's "Inhale"; a guitar solo worthy of Blue Oyster Cult in his own "True Confessions." And his guitar-centric tendencies run amok on Since We Last Spoke (Definitive Jux), RJ's sophomore full-length and a subtle yet thorough departure from 2002's Deadringer.

On the surface, Spoke is a big, sloppy love letter to the heady days of polyester-age funk-pop and all the bands that made it possible—Babe Ruth, Mandrill, Pacific Gas and Electric. The L.A.-to-Rio Latin-funk dance cut "Since '76" builds a plausible illusion of old-school Tropicalia before the tweeting Moog riffs and jaunty horn hooks fold in on themselves, imploding, dropping out, and backspinning furiously for the next go-round. "Clean Living" pulls off the trick just as well, wedding wispy post-psychedelic androgyne vocals to a Larry Graham–caliber bass line, coating it with a lacquer of Logan's Run synth ambience. But while the album's breakbeat pedigree is unsurprisingly solid, RJ's stabs at rock riffs and power chords draw more blood than an Alice Cooper stage show. The title track is a fearsome bastard, reconstructing the exploded remains of a Raw Power Stooges outtake with the solder Alan Parsons used to fix his circuit boards. The arena-sized "Through the Walls" envisions the Cars as closet Asia fans, and the prog-crunk synth workout "Iced Lightning" dares to envision the joke that irreverent heads started making years ago: El-P as E.L.P.

Rap fans might bemoan the lack of any actual MCs on this record; RJ seems to be saving most of his pure hip-hop beats for his numerous guest productions. But if a good decade of post-Morello thuddery has worn down the charm of rock-styled breakbeats, RJ's done his damnedest to shine it back up again.

RJD2 plays Chop Suey with Diverse and the Saturday Knights at 9 p.m. Fri., May 21. $12 adv.

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