Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Play With Toys

Released 1992 on Imago
Reviewed by Le Samourai, 22/03/2001ce

With the exception of D.J. Shadow, I still can’t figure out why America didn’t turn out tons of Trip Hop groups the way the U.K. did during the 1990’s (Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba, Lamb, Locust, Skylab, Sweetback and many more.) We’ve always loved brilliant, disorienting, moody and “fucked up” music (Americans have certainly created plenty of it during the 20th century and will hopefully continue this trend
into the next:-) That’s why it’s always surprising when I play this debut disc by African American group Basehead. So what makes this band Trip Hop?

Well for starters, lead singer/guitarist Michael Ivey sings like either he’s just waking up or the weed he smoked is just kicking in. Secondly, tempo wise the band simmers for most of the album instead of boils. Thirdly, Play With Toys would make one hell of a Dub record in that the slow tempos, slower singing and studio trickery Basehead uses would make great raw material for Dub producers like King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Adrian Sherwood, Mad Professor and Scientist (and you know Trip
Hop would’ve never existed without their twisted, golden touch at the mixing board.) Okay so what really makes Play With Toys stand out from the pack?

One word - humor. Ivey lyrically wades through a pool of bad situations (you know like bad romantic relationships and social ills) not tense and/or on the verge of a nervous breakdown like most of the U.K. posse of Tripsters do but with a “relaxed” almost stoner-ish sense of humor. They hilariously open (and close) the album as a C & W band called Jethro & The Graham Crackers playing in some Redneck dive and then proceed by playing songs from a “brand new band.” The first song “2000 B.C.” is one
tongue-in-cheek apology to everyone they ever talked to and then “zoned out” on or just plain forgot because they took one too many (“vitamins”, beer, whatever.) The B.C. here stands for “Brain Cells” not “Before Christ.” They even interrupt their own songs. “Brand New Day” is one big discussion with Ivey and a friend over Ivey’s current breakup with a girl. The friend, sounding just as “out of it” as Ivey, zones out on him and stops the song to hear a breakbeat. If that’s not funny enough the same friend later stops “Not Over You” (a continuation of the discussion they have in “Day”) ‘cuz the song is depressing him.
“Ode To My Favorite Beer” is exactly that. All things you’d more likely hear on a Cheech & Chong album than one from Portishead. All the while the music keeps a spellbinding, laid-back (to the point of near comatose) pulse (although it does heat up a little on “Evening News” both music and lyric-wise and sober up a tad on a few tracks.)

And that dear readers is what makes Play With Toys pure GENIUS. Oh yeah it’s “Trip Hop” in that the lead singer is on a bad yet hilarious “trip” for most of the album. Basehead’s sound is introspective, groove heavy, and also damn funny.

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