It is hard to pin down exactly why the dance music scene has slumped so dramatically into its current recession and electronic music of all types has seemingly fallen out of favour. It could be the great rock revival we are experiencing, it might be the surge in downloading, perhaps a collective shift in taste.
It could, alternatively, be due purely to the onset of sheer boredom and frustration with what for many has become mere music-by-numbers made by artists that place technology above creativity. Thankfully there are still artists out there trying to offer the seemingly beleaguered genre something original and interesting to dig its way out of a hole and Diplo definitely falls under this banner.
The cover of Florida features a hand reaching out of sun-kissed waters clutching a blinging belt buckle bearing Diplo’s name. This in itself gives a clue towards the album’s hip hop sensibilities which are combined with an earthier, more natural ambience. Ok, so the use of heavy hip hop beats, glitchy stop-start percussive touches and DJ Shadow-y sample trickery is far from groundbreaking but just when you feel you are heading into familiar territory Diplo throws you off-course with the unexpected and reignites your interest.
Way More, for instance, with its clicking kick drum, squelching electronic bass, and warm, hushed chords sounds initially like any other ‘glitch-tronica’ track but then a full burst of brass and easy jazz swing pricks the eardrums. Another example, Sarah, has UNKLE stamped all over it as light piano floats over a grinding guitar loop to create a dark, sleazy and smoky atmosphere. This is blown away by lazy trombone and rasping trumpet and the sun comes out, albeit hazily before disappearing again behind the murky cloud.
The exception to this rule is provided by Into The Sun. With its reverse beats and backwards samples forming an uneasy backing to Martina Topley-Bird‘s icy vocals, this is pure Massive Attack and holds no surprises. A simple tune that, despite its almost folky flute samples, is firmly rooted in the Bristol sound of 1995, but is all the same a strong, if slightly derivative, track. The happy and quirky Diplo Rhythm is also definite single material with a trio of vocalists adding some flowing raps and ragga chatter over a buzzing, electro backing that conjures up memories of an old school computer game soundtrack.
There are many other highlights worthy of note on what is a strong, well-structured debut: The uneasy electronic jazz of Works’ with its eerie organ, staggering beats, and drug-trip samples. The tabla-introduced Indian Thick Jawns with P.E.A.C.E. spitting out a breakneck rap over an Indo-orchestral backdrop. And Summer’s Gonna Hurt You where violin and soft analogue chords merge with melancholic male and haunting female voices to create an epic downtempo symphony. All are superbly executed and serve to elevate Diplo further still above some of his beat-mangling peers.
Florida is heavy on atmospherics and conflicting moments of uplifting, sunny lightness sit next to dark, overcast introspection as inspired interjections of jazz make tracks spin off on unexpected tangents. A lot of thought seems to have been put into producing an album varied enough to retain interest while also ensuring it all hangs together properly and maintains its own distinct sound.
Often stunning and never less than competent, this is an excellent, diverse collection of instrumental hip hop excursions, laid back grooves and whacked out rap tracks. This album triumphantly announces that there is a new kid on the beats block and he might just knock DJ Shadow’s b-boy cap off.