Various Artists

The Sound of Rhythm & Culture

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Rhythm & Culture is a subsidiary imprint to the legendary Washington, DC-based Eighteenth Street Lounge label. It's an artist-run collective established by ESL co-founder Farid Nouri, and on the evidence provided by this four-artist compilation, it's dedicated to creating a sound that blends smooth R&B, international rhythms, and dubwise production techniques to create a varied but identifiable flavor all its own. There are times when that flavor is just a little bit too smooth and sweet: the lite basslines, Fender Rhodes piano, Latin percussion, and whispery vocals on Second Sky's "Under the Line" cross the line from pleasantly smooth to cloyingly smoov, as does the same artist's funky but ultimately rather saccharine "Too Far." Same goes for Thomas Blondet's two-chord Brazilian effort "Samba Soul." On the other hand, there is some brilliantly dubbed-up funk-reggae from Farid Nouri himself ("Sound Champion"), an excellent rockers collaboration from Blondet and the always-brilliant Subatomic Sound System, and a lovely cameo appearance by singer Sarah Vertino on Nouri's beautiful "Balearic Express." You'll also encounter moments of hip-hop and house, and lots of tracks that shred the boundaries between all of those styles with off-handed ease. Even the weakest moments on this album are easily listenable, and taken as a whole, it makes for a very pleasant, slightly chilled listening experience.

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