For the past few years, a group of independent hip hop producers and MCs — from Emeryville's Anticon crew to Columbus' RJD2 to New York's El-P — has been fucking with mainstream hip hop, lobbing cherry bombs down the toilet of a genre that's become pretty lame. Reversing convention, these artists craft records by replacing bombast with insecurity, using field recordings instead of samples, and banging on trash cans and buckets where the wicky-wack of a turntable had sufficed. For several years now Boom Bip, aka Bryon Hollon, has been longboarding this genre-bending wave. A producer, multi-instrumentalist, and former church piano-tuner, whose style falls somewhere between Aphex Twin and Beck, Boom Bip caused quite a stir with Circle, his 1999 collaboration with Anticon's Doseone. (The effort garnered him praise from such unlikely sources as the New York Times, which included the record in its list of Top 10 Worthwhile Albums of the Year.) Boom Bip's latest release, Seed to Sum, finds him going in a slightly different, though not unexpected, direction. Composed mainly of instrumentals, the LP is about as abstract as it gets, a Rorschach drawing disguised as hip hop.
Each track on Seed to Sum is totally different from the one before it. The opener, “Heads Must Roll,” is a regal thumper that sounds like it features Mötley Crüe's Tommy Lee on drums and Brian Eno on vibes, while “Third Sun” flows on a drunken bass loop slamming into a rinky-dink keyboard. Several tunes, including “Pulse All Over,” deliver droning synth harmonies that wouldn't sound out of place on a Boards of Canada record (but feel slightly incongruous here). In the end, what redeems — and points out the difficulties with — Seed to Sum is the awesome number “Mannequin Hand Trapdoor I Reminder,” with the inimitable Doseone on vocals. This tune is so good that it really doesn't belong on the album — it's too much of a song, whereas the rest of the record feels like the sketches of a crazy genius.
The main problem with Boom Bip is that he's often too abstract. He likes to bang on those aforementioned trash cans, play theremins, and generally surprise everyone with his ingenuity. The thing about ingenuity, though, is that it can be both really cool and totally useless. Take the DeLorean for example: No one denies it was a bitchin' car, but few people wanted to drive it. Sadly, Seed to Sum is the DeLorean of independent hip hop.