Friday, 30 December 2011

Review: Onra - Chinoiseries Part 2

Onra Chinoiseries 2
French beatmaker Onra finally follows up his excellent Chinoiseries album from 2007, and it's every bit as good as the original, possibly better. Chinoiseries is a project in which Onra strip-mines retro Vietnam vinyls for samples and then builds a dense instrumental hip-hop album from the results. He's obviously not the first person to do this - Madlib has done lots of geographically themed albums in recent times with his Medicine Show series - but I think Onra is a better beatmaker than Madlib. At least, I enjoyed these albums way more than anything I've heard from Madlib.

Onra basically follows the Stones Throw formula as defined by guys like Madlib and J Dilla (particularly his legendary Donuts album from 2006) - 30-40 ultra-short tracks per album, creating an ever-changing sampledelic beatscape where brilliant hooks, funky grooves and amusing vocal samples appear and enrapture for about thirty seconds before vanishing forever. It's a different approach to DJ Shadow-esque instrumental hip-hop, and occasionally you wish some of the more delicious cuts went on for 4-5 minutes instead of tantilising you for mere moments, especially as Onra is immune to making bad beats. He's found so many great samples here you could stretch the Chinoiseries material out to four or five conventional albums, easily.

With these albums, it's all about the strength of the samples, and consequently the richness of the sample source. A lot of the weaker albums of this type disguise the lack of solid hooks with endless quirky vocals, skits and rapid cuts between ideas, hoping you won't notice that nothing is holding your attention for very long because there's nothing to grab it in the first place. Not only has Onra struck gold in terms of finding plenty of great samples, he's also the first Westerner I've ever heard to make a retro-Vientamese themed album. The source is so unusual and underexplored that these albums can't help but sound fresh to anyone who doesn't have a collection of 1970s Vietnamese jazz LPs

Okay, yeah, this is basically a beat-tape with no real structure, held together as a listening experience by embracing its inherent fragmentation. And yeah, if you've already heard the original album you might find this to be "more of the same". But this is high calibre head-bobbing material, so densely constructed it stands up to more intensive listening, and it's got more musical content that many artists fit into their entire discography. Worth a listen if you're into instrumental hip-hop, and if you're new to the genre - oh man. You've got a treat in store.

Genre: Instrumental hip-hop
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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