Playgroup

Playgroup

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Most of the criticisms leveled at Trevor Jackson's rumpus-room collaborative unit called Playgroup have little to do with whether or not the record's achievement matches its intention. The gripes tend to direct rolling eyes and yawns at Jackson's well-documented connections and his "been there, read about that" cred sculpting, and they also take Jackson's misty-eyed view of a particular period in music -- one that just happened to be back in vogue around the time of their self-titled album -- to task for being dunked too deep in the River Nostalgia. Admittedly, Jackson's references and the imagery with which he dresses them can be a bit stifling. Without hearing note one of the album, the prime directive becomes obvious to those who know their history half as well as the man behind it. Just through scanning the credits and the artwork, it becomes abundantly clear that Jackson and his post-post-punk jackals are feasting upon the early '80s, a period when all sorts of crossbreeding was taking place between pop, disco, rap, reggae, R&B, and post-punk. A casting call of luminaries from this period contribute to the album (reggae producer Dennis Bovell, Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame, Orange Juice's Edwyn Collins), as well as a handful of likeminded artists whose careers started a little or a lot later (Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna, the Happy Mondays' Rowetta, Luca Santucci). Playgroup's heart is in the post-disco clubs of New York City with the occasional trip to Jamaica -- or London's view of Jamaica, as the record's dub reggae dabblings recall similarly styled post-punks like the New Age Steppers. Most importantly, the teeming exuberance and freshness of most of these predominantly verse-chorus-verse pop songs means that -- without the albatross of the "what came first" mentality -- just about anyone who places a premium on rhythm and melody can enjoy the record for what it is. Did the artists and producers that inspired Playgroup do it better? Of course they did. Jackson would probably tell you the same thing. But despite its entrenchments in the past (and a couple bum moments), Playgroup is a fanciful, diverse, reverential, and well-executed romp. Don't fight it. Feel it. [Playgroup was originally issued in the U.K. in 2001. The U.S. edition, released in 2002, added a Fatboy Slim remix of "Front 2 Back."]

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