When I first learned of the pending collaboration between vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow and producer Madlib, I wondered what took them so long to unite. Both artists are deeply immersed in the “fOnk” (that’s “funk” for the uninitiated), and have a passionate affinity for obscure celestial grooves and granular Afro-centric rhythms. To appreciate either artist is to appreciate esoteric soul, most songs a spacey journey through cosmic ambiguity, no matter how bumpy the ride. And they certainly aren’t shy about sharing their respective music. Muldrow walks into this project having released the full-length Owed to Mama Rickie just four months ago. Also in 2011, the Inglewood native released VWETO, a glossy instrumental collection of everything you might expect from a Muldrow record: electronic drum breaks, high-pitched squeaks and floating keys. Meanwhile, Madlib’s output has slowed down slightly, although the latest album in his Medicine Show series is scheduled to drop soon. His last Show recording, much like his other releases, was an expansive exercise in sonic patience, complete with indecipherable loops and hazy lyricism.
So while I wasn’t surprised by the Muldrow/Madlib partnership, I didn’t know what to expect from Seeds, the album resulting from said alliance. Is Muldrow going to rhyme for the most part? How will her vocals rest against Madlib’s unconventional production? Just how weird will this project sound? Surprisingly, Seeds is fairly straightforward, at least as uncomplicated as one could expect from the eccentric California duo. For 11 songs and just 34 minutes, the artists do their best to combine artistic efforts, chastising The Monsanto Company’s genetically engineered seeds on the title track and warning against the effects of Kali Yuga, a Hindu term referring to the last and darkest age of Earth. “Man is temporary,” Muldrow sings on the scant, percussive track. “His logic is insane.” Elsewhere, she gets overtly political on “Kneecap Jelly”, quietly launching the song before her frustration overflows. “Common knowledge say a U.S. president can’t save ya/Everywhere you turn, a mental warden seeks to slave ya.” If you follow Muldrow’s music, you know of her kindred connection to all things spiritual. Therefore, a song like “Calabash” shouldn’t shock listeners, as it closely aligns with her nurturing persona. “Why do we kill each other, when we’re all the same?” Muldrow whispers amid a driving bass line and sporadic beat drops.
Sonically, Madlib provides Muldrow with an assortment of fluid instrumentals — sometimes rousing, sometimes quiet — that allows the singer’s vocals to resonate with minimal obstruction. “Seeds”, the album’s opening song and arguably its most captivating, is an enveloping loop of blaring bass drums, faint strings and trickling piano chords. Conversely, the scratchy “Husfriend” features a restless bass line and Wu-Tang-influenced organ, both parts fairly subdued. At times though, Muldrow’s unfiltered wails seem to clash against Madlib’s rich, funk-laden soundtrack, resulting in brief moments of jarring perplexity that dim the album’s overall luster. For instance, the aforementioned “Kneecap Jelly” begins quietly before Muldrow’s voice becomes overwhelmingly strident by the song’s second verse. Her message is earnest enough, but the piercing pitch eventually makes it a tough listen. On “The Birth of Petey Wheatstraw”, an overriding bass line drowns Muldrow, so much so that her objective is difficult to discern.
Much like my reaction to the Muldrow/Madlib partnership, I’m not at all surprised by the album’s outcome. In its entirety, Seeds sounds like you’d expect it to sound: blatantly funky with loads of worldly unrest and glassy-eyed optimism. As evidenced above, that combination doesn’t always hit the mark, but those flaws don’t subtract too much from its intrigue. Overall, Seeds doesn’t break new ground, but it doesn’t fail either. There’s an unspoken vigor to the recording. And that makes it interesting.