Having received this album to review a few weeks ago now, I felt it necessary to wait and listen intently, over and over. The new album by DJ Signify, Of Cities, is one I have been wanting to drop for a long time now, since first hearing his debut on Lex Records Sleep No More back in 2004, which is still one of my favourite albums four years on. So as with anything worth waiting for, you truly hope not to be disappointed – for it to fall short of expectations – and frankly, my expectations for this album were set very high.
Firstly, a little history. For those new to DJ Signify, he first emerged onto the scene back in 1996, with his break mixtape Signifying Breaks, causing quite a stir on the mixtape circuit, showcasing his skills as a DJ, and one to watch at that. Never in too much of a rush, releasing his follow up mixtape Mixed Messages in 2000, again to great acclaim, constructed on two turntables and a four track. Next came the meeting of like minds for his debut vinyl release, hooking up with Bully Records, where it all seemed to fit, a dark and moody 7â€ titled Unclean Volume 1, sampling a Bukowski rant on the track “Bukout”, creating a sinister edge to be carried through most of his future work. His debut album Sleep No More, released on Lex, the hip-hop offshoot of famous Warp Records, gained critical acclaim, cementing his reputation as a producer, both for his instrumentals, and his work with vocalists on the album, Sage Francis, Buck65, that fit neatly into his vision, delivering off the wall flows, crazy raps. Buck65 at his best here with some memorable lines, weirdly evocative in their content and delivery. Hopping back to Bully Records later in 2004, again collaborating with Sixtoo on a double 7â€ of electro/kraut experiments entitled No One Leaves, proving further DJ Signify’ versatility as a producer. Next was a 7â€ on Grand Good with the infamous Grandmaster Caz, and a podcast Teach The Children for the same label. 2007 brings another 7â€ on Bully, Nobody’ Smiling, this time collaborating with Blockhead, as well as the 45 Plus tour cd of past tracks, remixes and collaborations.
That brings us to now, well, the end of January 2009, when Of Cities is due to be released on Bully Records. Before you ask, no, I was not disappointed with this album, far from it, it actually exceeded my expectations, taking instrumental hip-hop to a whole new level. While DJ Signify has his production style firmly in the hip-hop world, he has created something with a life of its own, with many different styles and influences, 90′ hip-hop, krautrock, glitch, new wave, all feature here, retaining his drum heavy signature that really underpins and propels these tracks beyond just beats for MC’. Working with only one vocalist this time around, and he picked well, Aesop Rock brings a poetic aggression to two tracks, “Low Tide” and “Sink Or Swim”, the later just kills for me, any MC that can include commentary on “medicinal maggots’ scores points, a dark poet maybe, but one worth listening to. Other contributions include Matt Kelly on “Delight To The Sadist” (originally on the No One Leaves ep) and Blockhead on “1993” (originally Nobody’ Smiling), but the remaining tracks are all new compositions. “The Sickness” sets the tone to creepy with its subtle new wave synths and melancholy moods, “Costume Kids” has a straight up beat, rolling bass line and eastern moods with anonymous warbling blue-grass vocalist uplifting the mood to a new level. “Vanessa” uses ambience to build until his beats drop, shifting to film noir soundtrack, revisited on “The Gods Get Dirty”, but containing an eerie undercurrent of glitch, hidden in a bed of static, subtle electronics and distant ghostly chants. “Bollywood Babies” effortlessly fuses a bollywood melody with gurgling electronics, never surfacing fully, allowing a bollywood goddess room to chant a few wordsâ€¦ “Hold Me Don’ Touch” rounds off the album with a motorik krautrock pulse, sounding like controlled cicadas trapped in a drum machine, bleeps and synth lines propel the vibe way out to space. Interspersed throughout are six interludes that act as sketches, the glue that holds the whole album together as an album to listen to from start to finish. That is one of the great joys of this album, its not a collection of beat tracks, its an entire listening experience, a rollercoaster ride from the first note through to the last pulse, it ebbs and flows, setting a mood you cannot ignore.
I can’ recommend this album enough, the best new release for 2009, setting the bar very high, and will definitely get DJ Signify the attention he deserves, and will probably heighten Bully Records profile and pull it out of obscurity. Buy it, or miss out on a fantastic listening experience that I’m sure will become a timeless classic.