DJ Signify | Of Cities
Most Likely To: paint a misleading picture with its special guest appearances.
DJ Signify’s spare, droning LP, Of Cities, is almost too subtle. It’s a fine line, because because low-tempo is supposed to be minimalist, but if a record is so lithe and quiet that it never truly grabs you, it’s no better than elevator music, is it? But the music here provides just enough hooks to stand out in an empty room.
For most fans of underground hip-hop, the real story is probably the two tracks with MC guest appearances – “Low Tide” and “Sink or Swim” – because the MC doing the guest-appearing is Aesop Rock. So let’s take a moment to consider the implications of having one of underground hip-hop’s biggest stars as the only voice on your record, for two of the fourteen tracks. Obviously, a lot of people, like me, are going to be drawn to it just to hear those moments, especially when the title and artwork of your album recalls Aesop Rock’s breakthrough album Labor Days, with its focus on the lower-middle class urban experience, which Of Cities shares. That’s all great, but having one of the world’s most dazzling verbalists tearing it up on two tracks almost makes the rest of the album sound like a collection of interludes. In short, it’s a little like having Robert Plant in your a cappella group.
Nonetheless, Of Cities offers a great, paranoid soundtrack to any 3 a.m. cruise through an urban center. The high-pitched moans heard behind the clicking – not thumping – beats might well be the distant, starved wails of an underfed baby. The beats themselves might be the city’s garbage men twisting a crack or two out of their lower backs as they sit on the edge of the bed before lacing up for work.
A song like “Hold Me Don’t Touch Me,” the album’s closer, is a perfect example. A small group of almost Gameboy beats fizzle gently behind a modest, melancholy synth melody that spends 90% of its time at one high, worrisome frequency. Other equally level sonic landscapes fade in and out of view, and the track ends, along with the album, with zero bravado.
This is the sort of album that finds a way to (mostly) wordlessly chisel out a monument to urban living. Throw it on after an episode of The Wire on your way to the grocery for some milk.
Listen to “Low Tide (featuring Aesop Rock)” from DJ Signify: