Baby's First Beats
By: Eric G.
This is not exactly the type of record you’d expect a guy who used to be a roadie for Babes In Toyland to make. Howard Hamilton III patches together analogue electronics with a cut and paste sample style that favors melody over the abruptness that hip hop acts usually employ. Hamilton’s vocals are laid back and lazy, matching his random word-associating lyrics a la Steven Malkmus from Pavement. Clearly, he listened to a lot of Beach Boys and schmaltzy 70’s crooners from the abundance of orchestral backdrops and retro-sounding instrumentation on his debut record, but he avoids being lumped into that retro-fad of Burt Bacharach-style pop sophistication by virtue of his eclectic sample library and resigned vocal stylings.
The dopey hip-hop beats mix well with Hamilton’s smooth layering of samples and indie rock. “I’m So Slippery” sounds like a lo-fi Moby song with pristine, faux-orchestration, chirpy female background vocals, and Hamilton’s slacker philosophizing: “You’re a vacant lot/I’m a plastic bag in the wind.” “Birds On High” recalls Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” with its wilting guitar sample and half-spoken vocals. The seventies pop saturation kicks into high gear on “Clogged Airways.” Light horns twitter on top of cheesy organ samples and sweeping string arrangements; if you don’t gag you might just find yourself humming along. The only signs of modernization are Hamilton’s DJ skills: frequent starts and stops and loopy beats.
Hamilton has a cheery voice that strains to hit the high notes, but his lyrics are playfully self-referential, as alluded to in titles like “Futon Hopper” and “I’m So Low On The Food Chain.” It’s not surprising that Baby’s First Beats is the product of some guy being holed up in his bedroom with a sampler and an eight track for months at a time, but that type of self-indulgent behavior does not always lend itself well to listenable music. Baby’s First Beats is almost an exception. There are a few really good songs here; others fall victim to premeditated cleverness (“Constantly Awesome”). It’s like an emasculated hip-hop album right down to the pink and flowery cover art. Listening to Babes In Toyland every night must have scared the rock right out of Howard Hamilton III.