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Friday, July 30, 2021

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Arts + CultureMusicWith 'And Then There Was Light,' Oakland's sndtrak masters...

With ‘And Then There Was Light,’ Oakland’s sndtrak masters the beat tape

From smooth-wave Beach Boys samples to a Nickelodeon theme song, all is fair game for the producer's recently-released 18 tracks.

For years—decades, in fact—I purposely ignored the Beach Boys. Then Questlove told me (well, not personally) that Pet Sounds was one of those records one needs to get up on.  

Not to go deep innit, but the Boys’ first couple of singles were light retreads of Chuck Berry ideas. But hey, we’ve known this story since Pat Boone’s theft of Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.” 

Turns out Questlove was right about the Beach Boys, as he always is. But in a way, I’ve been waiting for somebody to mess with those Boys. Enter Oaklands’ sndtrak, who has done just that on his 18-track beat tape debut And Then There Was Light.

Extending the parameters of what can be reconstructed, edited, and flipped, is the tried and true test of a master in the beat game. This is how you sharpen your sword, improve your craft. You can lean on old faves like the Bob James albums, and still bring something new. Reconstruct something from the here and now, like current R&B—that works too in the culture. Mess with a cheesy cartoon theme song? Ok, you’ve upped the ante. But flipping the Beach Boys and making them surfers croon like they from ’round the way? 

And Then There Was Light opening track “Andmercy” floats out those smooth waves moving under the strong Santa Ana wind vibrations, riding a “snatch your milk money” bass line. Live drums sound hard like stale candy, big as boulders, an ominous mood that meets a 7 a.m. sunrise.

That first track is a “kick in the door, waving the four-four” moment of reflection, announcing what is about to go down for the next 38 minutes. Freaky soulful psychedelia, power pop confection, with drum fills a’ rolling. Those sampled ‘blue eyed’ voices give a different, but dope, extra “knock” that brings to mind NBA star Kevin Love, nephew of The Beach Boys’ founding member Mike Love. Mellow, but hard-mellow, you know?

The project was released by Street Corner Music, a label that favors beat tapes (the producer’s version of a mixtape; assemblages of quick tracks meant to showcase yes, the beats) for the same reason I’m real picky about my hip hop. 

“A lot of it is instrumental because a lot of this rap shit is fucking trash these days,” label boss DJ House Shoes told Bandcamp.

I concur my brother, I concur.

That format is why sndtrak pretty much hits every damn thing out of the park. His tunes remain filler-free, he gets you up, amped, runs cold game, delivers the head-nod procedural, and we out. On to the next.

“Twilight,” a flip of The Twilight Zone theme, is tensed-up ‘shroom funk with acute horns, drums like guns, guitars splashes, noodling jazz fusion bass patterns, descending piano chords. It all results in that big drop of sweat rolling down your brow while bobbing your head, getting down to the funk, cause it’s good to-and-for-you. But dammit—is somebody watching me?

Track “Ryders” showcases a different technique. sndtrak plays a Nickelodeon cartoon theme at full speed, then drags it into the chop shop, cutting it into a half-time stomp that emphasizes the snare-kick, swings the bass-line through your basement, and boom-baps the shit out of a hokey TV intro. Oh, my gush.

But the beat tape’s super-surprise, which leaves us believing sndtrak is just as much a record nerd as he is a dope producer, is the Minnie-Ripperton-vibes joint “Thajoy,” where he reworks Kadhja Bonet’s “Joy” from her standout piece of 2018 psychedelic soul Childqueen. sndtrak stutter-steps with those beefy drums, making Bonet’s orchestral flutes and delicate vocals touch the sky, levitate for a bit.

Fans of solid production and true hip-hop will find sndtrak’s And Then There Was Light to be the signal of a new era. More so, a new way has entered the game. 

Buy And Then There Was Light here.

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.
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