Mike Ladd

Nostalgialator

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Although Nostalgialator was originally released in 2004 (on Germany's !K7 Records), most people outside Europe didn't have much of a chance to listen to it. Luckily, North American fans of Mike Ladd and exuberant left-field production who haven't had time to spend hours scouring the imports have a chance to hear the album thanks to indie hip-hop powerhouse Def Jux, which reissued it in early 2008. Those looking for the musician's sparser, softer work will have to be content with compromise, because Nostalgialator -- described by Ladd as "manufactured by a corporation in order to make our lives bearable" -- is as much crunchy basslines as it is avant jazz keyboard reflections (the latter courtesy, for the most part, of Vijay Iyer, with whom Ladd has collaborated multiple times). The album, like most things the MC does, has a kind of complicated and esoteric back story that doesn't always make much sense to the listener, but fortunately the music holds up on its own merit. It starts off energetically with the marching band-inspired "Trouble Shot" and "Dire Straits Plays Nuremberg," a kind of Rage Against the Machine meets Daft Punk meets Ben Harper song that finds the MC in full protest rally mode, his shouts against the American government muffled by the roar of the (fake) crowd. Much of the album, unsurprisingly, is politically oriented -- "Off to Mars?," "Black Orientalist" -- but Ladd brings in enough other influences, both lyrically and musically, that it doesn't read as explicitly political. The sexual "Housewives at Play" borrows from Prince and novelty act Flight of the Conchords, "Sail Away Ladies" finds Ladd eschewing his falsetto for a deep throaty voice in his interpretation of the folk song, while "How Electricity Really Works" sounds like a more intellectual, poetic version of Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)." Perhaps Nostalgialator isn't the artist's most provocative work, but his mix of indie electronica, rock, blues, punk, hip-hop, and spoken word certainly makes it one of his most interesting and fulfilling endeavors.

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