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Soft Money

Jel

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Album Review

Much has been made about producer/rapper Jel's love of the antique SP-1200 sampler and how his work pays homage to golden age hip-hoppers like Mantronix and Marley Marl. Soft Money sounds unlike anything Jel's heroes constructed, but it recalls them both philosophically and deep, deep within in the groove. The limited sampling-time capabilities of the SP-1200 create clean, tight, and gripping loops on top of which Jel piles paranoid, noir landscapes and the occasional vocal or rap. Kicking the album off with his own understated vocal track "To Buy a Car," Jel challenges listeners — almost subliminally — to free themselves of material desires with a funky, accessible track beneath. As the album progresses, rebellion is kept just below the surface as whispers of revolution weave in and out of serpentine yet funky terrain. Guest vocalist Stephanie Böhm (from Couch and Ms. John Soda) blissfully dream about personal development through human interaction instead of material goods on "All Around," while Jel himself drops spiritual metaphors and references to the Swiftboat Veterans on the stream of consciousness "Soft Money, Dry Bones." After all this, the bitter "WMD" is a sucker punch, breaking the spell with venomous lyrics pointed at "unfairly elected liars," "freelance extremists," and "governments that conspire." It's the dramatic climax of the album that slowly fades away and then departs with the near-novelty number "Chipmunk Technique," a throwaway track that pokes fun at Kanye West and his followers' love of the sped-up R&B sample. It's clever, but it's way out of place and easy enough to remove on repeat listens. Otherwise, Soft Money has a firm foundation, with SP-1200 fetishism being just one small sliver of its appeal.

Soft Money, Jel
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