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Paul White - Rejuvenate Music Album Reviews

Paul White - Rejuvenate Music Album Reviews
Danny Brown’s go-to producer abandons his sampledelic style for an album of original beats and inspired guest vocals that reveal who he really is as a solo artist.

Electronic musician Jon Hopkins explained in a recent interview that although his compositions are often ambient and airy, his aim is to capture the attention of the preoccupied listener. He loves to hear fans say things like, “I went to do some cooking and put it on, and ended up sitting down and listening to the whole thing.” But not all instrumental musicians so openly covet listeners’ attention. London-based producer Paul White, best known for his work with Danny Brown, seems indifferent to the spotlight. Over the course of more than a dozen releases marked by carnivalesque hip-hop beats and samples sourced from a wide array of traditions and cultures, his own identity has largely faded into the background. Each of White’s beats can sound like the gateway to an entire world, but few of them reveal much about their maker.

In light of that history, White’s new album, Rejuvenate, is unusual. Its cover is a sketched headshot of the artist (which, if you buy the vinyl version, you can color in yourself). And it’s the first record he’s made on which the music isn’t constructed from samples. Instead, it finds White making music that others might deem worth sampling, not by echoing his primary sources but by blending chillwave, R&B, ambient music, soul, and various British dance traditions. The result is a subtly extraordinary record that is likely to boost White’s profile whether he likes it or not.

Until now, White’s sensibility was most apparent on the 2011 cult favorite Rapping With Paul White, a mix of instrumentals and hip-hop tracks featuring collaborators like Brown (for whom he went on to produce the majority of Atrocity Exhibition), Guilty Simpson, and Marv Won. The sampledelic album was modest but arrestingly strange. On “A Weird Day,” Homeboy Sandman recounts his trip to London to record “A Weird Day” with White. The song is so odd and so distinct that, years after encountering the track, hearing the phrase “weird day” can trigger a memory of Sand kicking off his verse: “Peace to my people/Next thing you know I’m in Heathrow.”

At first listen, it might strike you that Rejuvenate could have been called Singing With Paul White. Heavy on R&B, the record features the Zimbabwean poet and singer Shungudzo, the British-Jamaican singer Denai Moore, and White’s sister Sarah Williams White, each lending her voice to a pair of songs. But its key moment is the wordless “Returning,” a peaceful, string-plucking composition that makes use of White’s expertise with loops, the rhythm coiling into place as voices echo in the background, to quietly beguiling effect.

“Returning” is a revelation following the tracks featuring Moore, which are solidly composed but a little soulless. Despite her strong voice, her performance is too listless to build two consecutive songs around. White keeps things interesting by tinkering with the beat throughout, but like many producers, he seems relatively uninterested in evocative lyricism.

Sarah Williams White feels more present on her songs. “Laugh With Me,” which includes a sample of a child and an adult talking about laughter, is a buoyant, beautiful track, reminiscent of the best of the movement once pejoratively known as chillwave. Her hushed vocal makes the song sound as if it’s meant for children, a pleasant and genuinely moving lullaby without any saccharine aftertaste. The joyous “All Around” closes the record with Williams’ voice approximating Whitney Houston coaching Natasha Bedingfield through a breakdown.

But it’s the tracks featuring Shungudzo, which come in the middle of the record, that play most to White’s talents. Shun resembles Santigold when she was still Santogold, livening up “Spare Gold” with her drawling, rhythmic vocal. White’s trilling synths elevate lyrics about the everyday struggle (“I can’t escape this paper chase”). As the song circles in on itself, the beat achieves a supernatural glow.

This turns out to be White’s signature skill: With his incandescent, polyrhythmic beats, he brings a sense of mysticism to the ordinary. His production is full of fresh ideas, but his songs wouldn’t necessarily stop you in your tracks while you were cooking. Like so many other beautiful things, it’s only once you turn your full attention to it that White’s music begins to reveal itself.

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