When Sinchiro Wantanabe set to work on his first series after the monumentally successful Cowboy Bebop, he had quite a reputation to uphold, not just with regards to the show but also to its soundtrack. Over ten soundtracks were eventually released in conjunction with Cowboy Bebop, all of which both fans of the series and enthusiasts of jazz and blues music soaked up ravenously. When his sophomore effort, Samurai Champloo, was finally released, it proved to be just as intricately interwoven with its soundtrack as its predecessor, setting up each landscape, dialogue, fight sequence, and montage with heaps of meticulously chosen and composed music. However, while Cowboy Bebop's gritty, futuristic film noir had a natural partner in jazz music, Samurai Champloo involves a much more deliberate musical choice: this slick and sarcastic retelling of feudal Japan is constructed around hip-hop. While this premise may sound awkward, the almost entirely Japanese hip-hop soundtrack works flawlessly onscreen. What it provides for the ear in the absence of the series, however, is less than stellar. Still, many tracks on Samurai Champloo: Music Record Katana are what you might call single material, such as MINMI's "Shiki No Uta (Song of the Seasons)." This steady and beautiful song is simultaneously danceable, somber, stylized, and fun -- with melodic female vocals laid over a steady snare beat and a single finger-plucked guitar sequence, all retooled in the studio to add a light layer of gloss. Nujabes' intro theme, "Battlecry," is also a strong track, featuring English lyrics (rarely found in Japanese rap), as well as snippets of avant-garde piano, with a production that seems to place the entire song underwater in the most enjoyable of ways. Another notable track is the R&B ballad "YOU," an Illicit Tsuboi tune featuring the supple vocals of Kazami. This song takes what is perhaps one of the most standard styles in American pop music and reworks it with the innovative sensibilities of Japanese pop, creating something gentler and more blissed-out than you would find in typical American R&B-pop. The rest of the album, however, is mostly what you might call mood music. Fat Jon, Forces of Nature, and Illicit Tsuboi create cool, studio-savvy tracks with creative and inventive uses of acoustic guitar, drums, and organ. But as high quality as many of these tracks are, few can stand on their own. With no discernible arc and frequently no refrain, these tracks border on what could perhaps be called progressive R&B, with a Quincy Jones-ish feel that draws on numerous influences. With scarcely five minutes per track, however, these songs don't really have time to provide more than good listening during driving and web surfing.
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AllMusic Review by Cammila Collar