The Hollywood Recordings

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Everything Sa-Ra releases might be held up to "Glorious." Originally released in 2004, it's Digital Underground's "Kiss Me Back" turned X-rated, wading in Venusian lava -- slow-motion AfroFuturist psychedelia combining doped-out falsetto, waddling bass throb, lancing synthesizer, and clamping percussion. Prior to its release, Sa-Ra's three members had been connected with Dr. Dre, Ice-T, and Jam Master Jay, and as a group, they had produced tracks by Pharoahe Monch ("Agent Orange") and Jurassic 5 ("Contribution," "Hey"). "Glorious" set off a slew of low-key singles, compilation appearances, remixes, and collaborative production work, and three years later the song appeared as the prime standout of the first Sa-Ra full-length. Dubbed a prequel to their first major-label album, The Hollywood Recordings is neither a proper album nor a straightforward compilation. Old mixes it up with new, and its sequence seems somewhat happenstance and sprawling, like a glorified version of the demo CD-Rs that were passed around and spread across the Internet. Those who know the singles and demos won't be surprised by this disc's inconsistencies. Several songs sound either slapped together or needlessly toiled over, and a few beyond that have some mind-bending qualities obscured by digital gunk. When Sa-Ra is on, however, they are on, as if they formed one massive brain and fed their raw material through a device -- designed by a cast including George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, Prince, Too Short, and J Dilla -- called the Filthinator 3000. Sa-Ra indeed owes much to their inspirations (not to mention their ceaselessly lewd imaginations and various substances), but they push their sounds into mutated shapes that are only somewhat familiar. Even the songs that aren't off-center have something faintly freaky about them. Frequent characteristics involve glistening melodies swirling through synthetic haze, demented machine beats, Native Tongues-like drum loops, and a cast of voices involving Sa-Ra themselves and their many friends. Most songs involve an elaborate description of a desirable female; one reminds them of Alice Coltrane, while an enterprising stripper/hooker impresses them so much that they wrote her a superhero theme. Abbreviated list of featured guests: Dilla, Monch, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Capone-N-Noreaga.

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