Riow Arai

Mind Edit

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Originally released in Japan in 1999, Tokyo producer Riow Arai's Mind Edit is a beautiful work of bold and sometimes pastoral instrumental hip-hop that fits well with artists like Nobody, Manitoba, and Prefuse 73. "Cut-up" seems to be the defining feature, as these tracks come across almost like audio collages and, in fact, there are scissors pictured on the cover. "Undulation" does just what the title says, with shimmering and atmospheric gamelan-sounding bells flip-flopping back and forth across the heavily panned mix. But where Manitoba might stretch his compositions into hazy, melting psychedelic pieces or Prefuse 73 might create a densely layered web, Riow Arai's editing is reminiscent of vintage electronica like Aphex Twin's Classics (albeit with beats provided by the RZA). Not that the albums on a whole bear much resemblance to each other at all, but their construction does. In both cases, the sounds themselves take on the distinct quality of simple shapes and the structures seem geometric, as if built out of blocks of sound. The pieces chop and interrupt more than they blend. Perhaps what brings the comparison to mind is that, like Aphex Twin, Riow Arai doesn't let technology stand in for complex composition. He's as influenced by Chicago post-rock (just check the Tortoise-esque "Disturbance") and Krautrock as he is by breakbeat headz like Rob Swift. Riow Arai's closest American counterpart might be Dabrye and, interestingly, both cite Jay Dee (probably the Velvet Underground of hip-hop production in terms of the ratio of influence to actual fans) as an inspiration. Mind Edit might seem unassuming to those who aren't fascinated by underground instrumental hip-hop. But it is an album that stands brazenly at the crossroads of several experimental genres -- like Tortoise playing electronic funk ("Gold") or Jay Dee collaborating with Brian Eno (what a world this would be if that happened!).

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