Expressions

Expressions

  • Sean Fennessey
  • Pitchforkmedia.com
  • April 24, 2006

7.1/10

When opened in iTunes, resident Stones Throw croonfish Dudley Perkins' new album, his second, is labeled as "jazz." These sly misnomers are common, where cheeky artists or fans throw up unconnected genres as a cheap, easy joke on the consumer. (Slipknot = Blues, hilarious!) When I first noticed the tag on Dudley's new LP, I thought Madlib and co. were goofing, considering Perkins is a funk/soul singer; on Expressions, Perkins' impressionistic Ella Fitzgerald-style note-hanging makes that a little more believable. But where traditional jazz singers are focused chaos-- whether whirling through bustling percussion or slow-burning through low-down bass lines-- Perkins' bleary-eyed style is pure, unfettered slop. He hangs, sure, but it's plain to see he has neither formal training nor any idea that he's stretching out the syllables this goofily. Still, he finds ways to make it work.

Expressions is an improvement over his improbably existent debut, A Lil' Light, the work of a man with no idea how to write lyrics-- let alone songs. Not that he carted his horse to any sort of Leonard Cohen wagon; his tracks still amble, amiably. But producer Madlib has taken his ever-present penchant for fractured soul production-- sample-heavy organs and wah guitar sound-- to a slipshod breaking point here, a place where choruses are worthless and verses are for chumps. Perkins' debut was almost entirely choruses; eliminating his formulaic writing, Dudley's meandering here sounds more naturalistic. "Separate Ways" is droopy and shimmering at once, with a high-pitched synth punctuating the ramble-sanging: "Sweet memories of you and me down a one-way road," then a bit of scat-talking, then an informal coda. "Coming Home" could be about returning to a lover, returning to God or just, ya know, a trip home from the weedspot. Thing is, it's as much about existential terror. Dudley's shook. You can't name a song "Dear God" unless you really mean it, no matter how funny it is. "Dollar Bill" is predictably about an eternal lack of funds. Even rollicking opener "Funky Dudley" has an insecure call-and-response thing happening: "How'd you get so funky, Dudley?" Dudley tells us "whatever it takes to get the body to move," but he's only half-right. Only the clipped, pseudo-Parliament groove lets us forgive him his bragging and thoughtless proclamations.

There was a time when Dudley (initially known as the West Coast MC Declaime) was compared to the late prankster/genius Wesley Willis on this site. Lyrically, he's just not as funny or insistently bizarre as Willis. He ain't half the singer, either. But his personas (unlucky-in-love drunk, weeded-out couch-dweller, broke-ass God-fearer) offer a vulnerability often missing from most earthy nu-soul artists. It's only natural that Madlib and P.B. Wolf jumped at the chance to record Dudley's first full-length when the overrated 7" "Flowers" dropped in late 2002. Stones Throw's aesthetic demanded a warbly crooner, especially post-Nigga Please. In Dudley, they've got one, and now he's a growing artist, one without either traditional talent or pretension. He's just a singer that sings because he's got to. There's no other way to shake the demons-- or tell his chick he's sorry.

Newsfeed October 2, 2014