At Home With The Groovebox
By: Eric G.
At Home With The Groovebox is a higher-minded concept album than all those run of the mill tribute records that flood the market this time of year. Only Grand Royal could put out a tribute to the Roland MC-505 Groovebox; otherwise, known as the ‘band in a box.’ The Groovebox is based on the TR-808/9 and the TB-303 Bassline from the 1980’s, which were the instrumental building blocks of early hip-hop and techno. Bill Mooney of the merchandising firm Tannis Root came up with the idea to give each of the artists on this compilation its very own Groovebox just to see what would happen. Each artist was encouraged not to use any found sound sources other than the human voice, so that the results would reflect a fairly pure representation of the potential of the Groovebox.
If you just listened to this record without seeing who the artists were you’d be hard pressed to guess any of them (except for maybe one or two). Chicago experimentalist John McEntire uses the Groovebox to create an icy Trans Am-like soundscape with controlled, staccato beats and a Kraftwerkian synth line. Air turns the Groovebox into a sultry, atmospheric, space-age instrument on “Planet Vega.” The Groovebox can even make Pavement sound sophisticated. Well, sort of. Steven Malkmus still manages to kick out an ice-cold rhyme, dropping a bastion of pop culture references in the hilarious “Robyn Turns 26.” Beck keeps things simple on “Boyz”, which actually sounds like one of the early eighties hip-hop tracks that the Groovebox tries to emulate.
Sonic Youth lives up to its experimental side with “Campfire” by deconstructing the Groovebox’s purpose with a series of hisses and twittering bleeps. Thankfully, that one is very short. The ever playful Bis turns in a solid party track with “Oh My”, focusing on the thick electronic bass tones. Cibo Matto, like Bis, retains its signature happy go lucky persona and sense of melody while emphasizing the Groovebox’s rhythmic potential on “We Love Our Lawyers.” Bonnie “Prince” Billy just might take the prize for best track on the record. “Today I Started Celebrating Again” gives the countrified crooner the most drastic makeover with pulsating beats backing a stark and (surprise) gorgeously depressing song. It’s truly amazing and a must have for fans of Will Oldham.
This compilation gets major points for originality. Plus, it’s got a jaw-dropping roster of musicians. At Home With The Groovebox is the most diverse record ever made using a mid-eighties hip-hop emulator.