Review: Sacramento by way of Brooklyn, Lee Bannon goes all throwback '90s on your ears

 
Now a Brooklyn resident, Lee Bannon could have elected not to include Sacramento in press materials for his new LP Alternate/Endings, recently released via Ninjatune. Certainly, the full length in many respects represents a severing of ties to the body of work Bannon has made since producing various mixtape rappers in his apartments in Rocklin and Midtown.
 
Largely known for producing and deejaying for Brooklyn rap prodigy Joey Bada$$ (he can be seen in shades behind Joey during a Late Night With Jimmy Fallon performance), Bannon’s record makes a clean break from hip-hop by immersing itself in the skittish drum patterns of jungle and drum n’ bass. Alternate/Endings features a Bannon who’s disembodied from his backpack past , although he’s not forgotten his roots entirely.
 
In an interview with The Guardian,  for example, he claims Sacramento as the source of his interest in jungle.
 
“A lot of the older kids I grew up with on the West Coast were very much into it, it’s a huge thing where I’m from,” he explained.
 
It’s not widely known, but Sacramento’s EDM history, particularly jungle, dates back to the late ‘90s with the 916 Junglist crew—which celebrated a 15 year anniversary last May. Somewhere I’ve got a CD-R of early Dusty Brown material (whose sound is more trip-hop now), fashioned in the neck-snapping compositions of drum n’ bass.
 
Bannon willingly told the UK press – which nonchalantly front as though Americans only understand dubstep – that he got his jungle credentials from the West Coast.
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Guess what redcoats, this one is ours.
 
Alternate/Endings is spring loaded on the front end by “Resorectah” and “NW/WB,” the latter liberal in its sampling of threatening barks from Death Grips’ MC Ride and the RZA. A feeding frenzy of sirens and alerts, “NW/WB”  feels like everything and the kitchen sink of what Bannon has done up to that point. It’s a manic accumulation of touchstone influences, processed into one track.
 
 
For the past year he’s countered his traditional ‘90s rap production for Joey Bada$$ with pet project EPs such as his Caligula Theme Music 2.7.5 series, which featured trap rap and ethereal ambient experimentation. The absorption of rap, field recordings, jungle, trap, and the New York nightlife reaches critical mass on “NW/WB” and comes crashing down but never falls to pieces.
 
Alternate/Endings is not without its lulls. The progressive bounds established early begin to stumble by the time the listener reaches “Shoot Out The Stars and Win.”  Throughout, Bannon lapses into common tropes of jungle and seems unstable with the rapid fire BPMs in places, causing it to feel like a transformation is overdue. Take the outro of “Ready/Available.” While the track is cathartic, it’s impact is temporarily muted by a downward spiraling five minutes of entrancing repetition. With brevity, the severity of a piano sonata beneath sub-bass percussion is not squandered, but delivered like a crippling phone call of a death in the family.
 
Still, great moments exist on Alternate/Endings: the “Ready/Available” piano-outro, the ethereal bliss disrupted by glitchy terror blips on “Phoebe Cates,” the FM dial R&B cranked to warp speed on “Value 10.” It’s not a perfect debut, but it sets the bar high for EDM in 2014 and resurrects a genre absent from popular discussion since the ‘90s. 
 
Want to hear more? No Sac dates on the calendar, but Bannon plays the Mimosa club in San Francisco (1015 Folsom) Friday, January 17.  Tickets are $20-$25. Head here for more info.
 
For more on Alternate/Endings go here.

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