Album Reviews: Tales of the Forgotten Melodies by Wax TailorWhen Guru launched his Jazzmatazz project in the early '90s and introduced American audiences to a French rapper called MC Solaar, a lot of heads were briefly turned on to the surprisingly fertile hip-hop scene brewing in France. People started name-checking, and occasionally even listening to, producers like DJ Cam and La Funk Mob, and for awhile it seemed like France was going to be at the leading edge of a hip-hop foreign invasion that would give the American scene a refreshingly international flavor.
But no such luck -- a decade later, even major talents from English-speaking countries (England's Dizzee Rascal and Canada's k-os, for starters) still can't find a wider audience in America's hopelessly ghettoized (in every sense of the word) hip-hop scene. It's a situation that becomes especially frustrating when you stumble across a gem from France like Wax Tailor's debut album, Tales of the Forgotten Melodies, because you know that most American heads won't even hear that this record exists, let alone hear it.
What they're missing out on is a disc that's definitely in the same cinematic vein as homegrown experimental DJ/producers like Shadow, Blockhead and Cut Chemist, but so flawlessly executed that it's close to an instant classic. Like all great downtempo artists, Wax Tailor's beats are not overtly funky or danceable, but just one tool in a full sonic palette he uses to seduce, intrigue and mesmerize -- a theme spelled out explicitly on "Hypnosis Theme," but evident throughout the album's ghostly, melancholy tone and its cryptic, disembodied vocal samples.
It's not all spooky instrumentals and movie soundtrack snippets, through. Tailor wisely mixes things up a bit with two guest appearances by Atlanta underground rappers The Others, who are a solid addition so long as they're not laying down yet another lame nostalgia trip about the glory days of the "old school" ("Where My Heart's At"). He also indulges his fondness for early British trip-hop with the help of French singer Charlotte Savary on "Our Dance," which comes across more as homage than ripoff with its obvious Portishead references.
Wax Tailor saves his best and ballsiest trick for last: The album's penultimate track, before a stately cello-laden outro, transplants Nina Simone's famous version of "Feeling Good," into a gorgeously cinematic piece of jazzy trip-hop. Sampled strings and bass swell and fade as fragments of sax and trumpet counterpoint Simone's easy, soulful delivery. Considering how many hack remix compilations of old jazz standards are littering the record store shelves these days, it's all the more remarkable that Tailor's makeover of this classic, which he calls "How I Feel," is arguably the album's highlight.
Tales of the Forgotten Melodies is so good, I'll even let Wax Tailor have the cheeky, self-referencing movie dialogue samples he uses to introduce and conclude his record. Yes, it's a tired old DJ trick to splice together voices at the beginning of your record saying thing like, "Ladies and gentleman, your attention please...and now the moment we've been waiting for is here!" But in this case, Forgotten Melodies really does deliver a moment we've all been waiting for -- the arrival of a brilliant new talent on the downtempo hip-hop scene. - Andy Hermann
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