Mndsgn (or Mind Design, if you’re still scratching your head) is the latest in a long line of vowel-dropping producers to emerge from the Los Angeles beat scene, a fertile stomping ground for those electronically-minded, obsessively-curating crate diggers who find glorious voltaic release—and sometimes world renown—on the dank, nocturnal stages of Boiler Room and Low End Theory club showcases. Yawn Zen is Mndsgn’s official Stones Throw debut and it’s a generally pleasing, listenable excursion through the compositional tendencies of a cat with a genuinely compelling pedigree.
Mndsgn (or Ringgo Ancheta if you process government paperwork for a living) found his way to Southern California by way of a fairly itinerate path; something about being raised in the Philippine jungle, having parents caught up in terrorist activity, and entering a subsequent political asylum to the nondescript suburban enclaves of New Jersey—that is, if his Stones Throw bio page is to be believed. In any case, the Tri-State area is where Ancheta was born again as Mndsgn, a prolific electronic and hip-hop producer whose Yawn Zen seems a self-reflective, patient collection of (mostly) instrumental tracks that parallel his real-life, searching through a sometimes perilous past.
This album is the work of an electronic nomad who weaves chunks, slices and remnants of his particular musical affinities into stark, aural sketches. There’s the spacious boom-bap of Dilla; the glitch of eight-bit video games; the post-disco/new wave pop of the ‘80s; even occasional strums of acoustic guitar for good measure. It all adds up to a fully-inhabited, often meandering album that, unlike many of Mndsgn’s producer peers, never feels like it’s in a hurry to get anywhere.
In fact, the artist himself has stated that the songs were recorded in a “state of bliss,” a descriptor phrase that might reference the stoner tendences of his particular community of musicians; or might simply invoke the ambient stasis of tracks like “AM” and “Exchanging” which provide atmospheres simply for drifting. In July’s installment of the monthly Boiler Room netcast “Breakfast With Ringgo,” Mndsgn and fellow Stones Throw producer Knxwledge can be heard flipping Lisa Stansfield’s “Big Thing” (released in 1988) and Michael Jackson’s “Carousel” (1982), two tracks that inform the vintage soul and disco of Mndsgn’s own “Txt (MSGS)” and the kitschy, easy-listening warmth of “Homewards.” Elsewhere on Yawn Zen, Dilla’s direct influences are apparent in “Afternoon Shuffle,” the record’s most active track which channels Jay Dee’s classic “Lightworks;” the airy, uncrowded “Convert;” and the definitively honorific “Camelblues,” which overtly references A Tribe Called Quest’s “Find A Way.”
Two things stand out to this writer—an admitted novice to the L.A. beat scene—when listening to the music of Mndsgn and his ilk. First is its implicit self-referential-ness, a quality which must derive straight from hip-hop, the music’s first genre cousin. Second is its confined nature, which seems to contradict the actual physical space in which the music has been gestating. The open expanse of the West is best known for encouraging the folk music and surf rock of the 1950s, two bastions of gregarious, communal musical experience. The electronic beat scene, however, more resembles jazz: it’s still a participatory endeavor (which is evident in the massive success of the aforementioned club nights) but this music is typically created in highly confined spaces, and often sounds best through solitary headphone sessions. In that way it also mirrors the incorporeal abundance of its very existence: compressed packets of data that can be transported and re-transmitted as beacons of light to illuminate the dark corners of an already dazzling landscape; even one as sunny as Los Angeles.
4 out of 5
You can buy Yawn Zen on Amazon.