Tuesday, February 03, 2004

#83) Basehead - Play With Toys (released in 1991, I found it on used CD at the short-lived Disc-Go-Round next to Wendy's my freshman year in college)

Late-bloomer that I am, I owned an album about romantic frustration and excessive drinking before I had much experience with either. Time has made Play With Toys feel all the more insightful, innovative and impressive. When it was released the album's sound was frequently described as "Galaxie 500 meets De La Soul," but in hindsight it sounds like a darker, less glossy version of Sugar Ray's mix of clean guitar, drum loops and slacker yearning. The goofball buds get to do more than grin behind the singer here, though - some of the best songs on the album are interrupted by a deep-voiced friend who thanks bandleader Michael Ivey for capturing the romance of alcohol ("Ode To My Favorite Beer"), tries to get his mind off of a break-up ("Brand New Day," "Not Over You") or to note that Ivey's bringing up a lot of problems without finding solutions ("Evening News").

Ivey's responses to these intrusions are equally memorable, especially in "Evening News," where Ivey shifts from social commentary to a chorus of "Shake It Like A White Girl" while his friends bicker over whether the earlier verses had any value. Most of the album was recorded while Ivey was a student at Howard University and the album does a unparalleled job of capturing that collegiate vibe, utilizing hip-hop production styles in a lo-fi and autobiographical context. The next album, Not In Kansas Anymore was a muddled and conflicted follow-up, and by '96's Faith Ivey had found Jesus and lost all critical attention. Ivey may remain a bizarre footnote in the world of "alternative hip-hop" (a bizarre footnote in and of itself), but hopefully someone will reissue this out-of-print classic so that future generations of beer-bolstered, deep-thinking dorm rats can enjoy it.

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