Nowadays, it seems everybody wants their old-time rock and roll—club kids, minimalist beat-heads, retiring MCs, badly aging actresses, the doomed, the hijacked. Conciliatory thoughts of lazy A&Rs after Election Month 2000 (“There are always more guitars during Republican administrations”) have come true. Yet instead of a new rockist revolution, we’re stuck in modern history’s infernal post-millennial pit, where misguided notions have made Iraqi democracy and Jet mash-ups shit-party siblings for cultural schoolbooks immemorial. The only escape appears to be imagining a creationist ethic that will devour its own history rather than limply mimicking it.
Undie rap producer/DJ RJD2 (né Ramble Jon Krohn) already possesses a track record of relying heavily on past recorded emotions to create a weighty present for his beats and funkadelic collages. Yet RJ’s sophomore full-length, the rock bandwagon-jumper Since We Last Spoke, ups the ante in reconsidering who we’ve been and what we felt. His new backward glance results in a million-moment march toward alternate history, somewhere between Kanye’s millionaire squatters’ residence and TV on the Radio’s shadowy borderland. RJ and his sampler wander the record crates of shared memory, and come up with progressive rock and Northern soul songs that have little to do with anybody’s idea of revival.
The album’s a completely MC-free affair, where RJ refuses to overtly place his hip-hop foot forward. The scratched-up outro of one otherwise classically porny quiet-storm grind plays like a listener’s note: Rocking funky mid-tempos is besides the point—focus on the songs, people. Do that, and questions of whether Since We Last Spoke is hip-hop dissipate. Tracks serving the needs of glam and new-wave trainspotters give way to lite rock and psychedelic soul heartstring pulls, delivered by backward-masked singers (often RJ’s manipulated warble) and analog synth doodles. Some moments feel so old-school, they’re separate but equal in evoking Ridgemont High’s prom (“Through the Walls”) and some South Philly street-corner graduation (“One Day”).
Being a head, though, D2 is always cutting up traditions so as to keep the focus on the horizon. Where “1976” starts off as a Latin funk-rock gallop with brass rejects from a faux Starsky and Hutch score, stimulating and simulating a psychosomatic bicentennial state of mind, the track’s “second verse” adds tension-filled pauses that’re all about throwing your hands into a fresh air. These silences contain more freedom than any dozen patriotic offenses, and more old-time rock-and-roll energy than any underground garage.