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Freddie Gibbs/Madlib - Bandana Music Album Reviews

On their second album as a duo, Madlib and Freddie Gibbs pull themselves deeper into one another’s worlds.
On paper, Freddie Gibbs, a straight-shooting street rapper, and Madlib, an eccentric tinkerer, are as mouth-watering a combo as licorice and pickle juice. But their collaborative 2014 album Piñata succeeded because the two are equally uncompromising: Madlib tailors beats to his eclectic ears alone, while Gibbs insists that he can rap over anything. Kindred spirits, the pair bonded through mutual gumption.

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Baba Stiltz - Showtime EP Music Album Reviews

Baba Stiltz - Showtime EP Music Album Reviews

On his first release for the iconic British label XL, the Swedish deep house trickster leans into his pop proclivities and heavy-lidded Lothario persona.

Like a number of Swedish electronic musicians in his orbit—Axel Boman, whose Studio Barnhus label he has recorded for; Yung Lean, for whom he’s made beats—Baba Stiltz is a trickster at heart. An early EP, Our Girls, was simply the same song at progressively slower tempos, devolving from a jovial skip to a woozy, tape-warped crawl. But the 24-year-old producer is a joker with a heart of gold: One of his first singles, 2013’s “Sometimes,” interpolated a snippet of Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”—the same song his famous countryman Avicii had popularized for mainstream EDM fans the year before—without a trace of sarcasm. Stiltz’s twinkly deep house boasts the bright colors and rounded contours of a plastic toy, and when he sings a characteristically love-besotted plea (“I’m selfish, can’t help it, I love you so much”) he really sells it, his croon gooey with a surfeit of pure feeling.

Chalk it up to his youth as a ballet dancer: Stiltz soars gracefully over thorny barriers of taste that would trip up a more heavy-handed artist. He can play it straight when he wants to, and he never beats listeners over the head with his eccentricity. But in recent years, he has increasingly let his quirks come to the fore—or near the fore. Draping his sometimes goofy, clearly untrained voice in a silky scrim of Auto-Tune, he dances around the question that invariably comes to mind: Is this guy for real?

Showtime is his debut release for the iconic British independent label XL. It’s not hard to imagine that the title alludes to the step into the spotlight that signing to such a storied imprint might entail. And while the music doesn’t make a significant break from Stiltz’s previous work, it’s clear that he’s leaning into his pop proclivities. All four tracks showcase his voice, and only the two B-side cuts—the diaphanous “Serve” and the punchier “Maze,” which drizzles syrupy Auto-Tune over a crisp, synth-heavy groove—are keyed to the sound and energy levels of contemporary leftfield house. On the A-side’s two showcase tracks, the emphasis falls squarely on the producer’s heavy-lidded Lothario persona.

It’s a good look. “Showtime” is particularly fun: Between his boomy register and his boastful sweet talk, Stiltz comes across a little like Johnny Cash singing Drake lyrics. Over lowing R&B horns and snippets of doo-wop vocals, he unspools a stream-of-consciousness tale of “a DJ with a good soul,” flitting from wry hedonism (“They say the drugs don’t work no more/They seem to work just fine”) to boilerplate braggadocio (of the “bags full of money” variety) whose naivety is worth its weight in imaginary gold. The beat is druggy and playful: Organs and guitars stretch and contort willy-nilly, and odd, extra beats cheerfully wrongfoot the groove when you least expect. Stiltz sums up his whole philosophy with a cheerful dis directed at no one in particular (“LOL on your whole life”), followed by a burst of sheeplike sampled laughter and a shrugged confession: “Grown man with a whole lotta downtime.”

“Situation” strikes a similar balance between stoner soul and unrepentant silliness. The sampled groove sounds like it’s trapped in a waterlogged cardboard box; his come-ons (“‘Cause sexy situations call for sexy measures/Sexy situations like you and I tonight”) are about as suave as someone whispering sweet nothings with a half-dissolved gobstopper in his mouth. Stiltz is basically a big, wet dog bounding out of the water and shaking his fur, gleefully oblivious to any discomfort he may cause; that he sounds weirdly like Odelay-era Beck here may or may not contribute to that discomfort.

The song is fun and fresh, if admittedly a little low-stakes—like the EP itself. It would be nice if more of the production had the sizzle of his best work. With just four tracks totaling less than 12 minutes of music, Showtime feels like a teaser; what Baba Stiltz does next remains to be seen. But if the Swedish heartthrob with the sly grin and a whole lotta downtime figures out the right balance of shtick and sincerity, we could have a pretty scintillating situation on our hands.

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