Eliot Lipp The Outside

[Mush; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: instrumental hip-hop/electro
Others: Luke Vibert, Ghostland Observatory, Lindstrøm

The story of Eliot Lipp is none too remarkable on paper. He was raised in Washington's Tacoma, where it's rainy. Then, at some point in his early teens, he moved to Chicago, where it's windy. At 18, he slid over to San Francisco, where it's hippy, and since 2004, he has lived in Los Angeles, where it's smoggy. Along the way, Eliot managed to study electronic music production, which sits as the dominant influence in his sound, above Hieroglyphics, RZA, and the Bay Area hip-hop he essentially grew up on. That is a pretty basic upbringing, and yet his sound is so unique. He's doing his own thing, take it or leave it. I, for one, am taking it all the way to the bank.

Unlike what we witnessed over the course of his first three albums, there are no big changes this time around. Lipp's fifth full-length (and first for the glorious LA-based Mush Records) continues the Korg MS-20 and Sequential Circuits synths and drum machine core of his sound, bolstered by a few field recordings (no doubt taken from the streets of his current hometown, as per the album cover), guitars, and piano samples. However, his past urges to disco has been usurped by acid. "Baby Tank" is a nasty, degraded, old school hip-hop beat with rolling washes of would-be lysergia, displaced melodies, and a few stabbing bleeps. That, when melted into the following techno groove "Beyond The City" -- with its Vibert-friendly lead and 808 percussion -- takes acid to a whole new level, from fist-pumping to head-bobbing in two easy steps. Those tracks alone are easily on par with anything off City Synthesis and an obvious improvement over his first couple records.

"The Meaning" is an especially moving track, beginning with hints of bass that float out of the din of a busy street corner. Eventually, a Doctor Who sci-fi synth starts progressing over a more prominent four-four beat, tastefully joined by Eliot's now typical ergotism. Meanwhile, album closer "It's Time To Leave" piles on the layers, feeling as though it's building the entire time (as some sounds filter out, others fill their place and take it further), but the bass never kicks in. Indeed, these two tracks standout because neither of them are of keen interest to your average DJ. They are not show-stopping floor-fillers. Instead, these tracks make The Outside a true album. Along with the field recordings, they provide a tasteful change of pace aimed at bedrooms, while still adding to the overall narrative.

That said, "The Area" is probably the single greatest song here. The acoustic drumming, funk guitar, elegant piano, and layers of tweaked synths amount to a pop the whole world is going to feel. You gotta give props where props are due. Although City Synthesis is similar to The Outside in many ways, Lipp continues to get better with each release. It's early to start picking, but The Outside may very well stand as one of the year's strongest. Make a note of it.

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