Rjd2 is a marketplace artisan. He knows what he sells and he sells what he knows—the acquaintance goes both ways. Since rolling into the music scene as a DJ and producer in the early aughts, he has gained a reputation for weaving the forgotten patterns in yesterday’s music into the textures of today and creating a masterful patchwork of turntable art. He understands that his talent is a desirable commodity, and he sells it, like a shady flea market dealer with good intentions.
Taking fellow Philly resident and singer Aaron Livingston as a partner in creativity and business, rjd2 comes back having rebranded himself under the moniker Icebird, ready to talk us up with his latest musical tapestry, The Abandoned Lullaby. Icebird takes on a style that is informed by paisley prints, Jimi Hendrix guitar lines, rjd2’s frayed hip-hop aesthetic, and modern yarns that have been spun by successful R&B soloists such as John Legend. Lullaby follows an underappreciated trend of soul-inflected songwriting in 2011, thanks to Livingston’s smooth vocal performance.
Some of his strongest moments lie in his subtleties, such as the melodic line that closes out “Wander,” which follows a pleasing up-to-down motion, emanating sorrow. Livingston’s vocal timber is eerily similar to that of John Legend, which is one of the ways Icebird risks selling something that has been sold time and time again. The duo zigzags dangerously between invigorating innovation and stale nostalgia, but they keep themselves in check, for the most part. There are plenty of fascinating threads in here suggesting modernity, such as the backwards-looped voices in “Going and Going. And Going,” or the strands of digitalization among the predominantly classic “Spirit Ache.”
As the album hits the midway point, what previously meshed so well finally gets tangled up by its own ambition—the songs play too long and the melodies lose their focus. ‘Dang,’ you say to yourself while carefully inspecting Icebird’s product. ‘It looked so good from far away.’ Could this quiet unraveling be interpreted as the duo taking themselves—and their album title—far too seriously? Just as you begin to consider that question and Icebird gets ready to close up shop, they put their artistry on display one last time, ending Lullaby with the snazzy, uplifting “Find Yourself.” Maybe, just maybe, the ambition and artfulness contained in this album—err, ‘tapestry’—is worth your support after all.