by Benjy Mello-Klein
Daylight Curfew is a Los Angeles-based audio and video production label that focuses on bringing to public eye and ear “various forms of experimental, left-field electronic and hip-hop.” L.A. producer Dfalt’s recent Helsinki Beat Tape could not fall more in line with his label’s aspirations. Dfalt’s tape is old school-flavored, break-based hip-hop production filtered through a soundset that is eerie, cavernous, and often busted up and injured in oddly entrancing ways.
The tape’s first track introduces a theme that runs throughout the other nine and separates Dfalt from the wealth of other new school/old school fusion producers: extremely unorthodox sampling. On “The Beggars,” as well as on numerous other tracks (“Feather Ton,” “Emptiness Finds a Way”), Dfalt slices vocal samples paper-thin and flips them dexterously, fashioning fragmented vowels and airy, pitch-warped melodies into fuzzed out, reverb-soaked canopies that lay atop his drums. Much of the tape feels tense and mechanical (“Spctrpn”). A few tracks casually blur the lines between instrumental hip-hop and IDM, while some (“Feather Ton”) seem to blaze right through them into Clark or late Aphex Twin territory. In fact, if it weren’t for the tape’s looping repetition, Dfalt’s production chops could easily pass him off as a unique and dynamic IDM producer.
Despite the tape’s abundance of experimentation, it manages to keep its urban flavor well enough intact to potentially appeal to fans of more focused instrumental hip-hop. Those who don’t bat an eye at the odder, more psychedelic Madlib and Jonwayne joints will find a lot to enjoy on Helsinki. There is certainly enough hip-hop in Dfalt’s sound to appease, at the very least, instrumental hip-hop heads. The only glaring weakness of the tape is its inaccessibility to actual rappers. Helsinki holds one, maybe two tracks (“Dance of the Witch,” “Draw”) that could really act as (in the purest sense) hip-hop instrumentals and effectively accommodate verses, and even these feel as busy as earlier Clams Casino instrumentals. Many of the other tracks simply don’t leave enough space in the mix for an MC, and because Dfalt loops and formats many of them like hip-hop instrumentals with verses and choruses, much of the album feels torn between wanting to subdue its wild tendencies and wanting to let them run completely free. Experimental electronic music fans will likely gripe about the album being on the boring side, while instrumental hip-hop fans may feel like they bit off more than they could chew.
Dfalt’s Helsinki Beat Tape is, despite any shortcomings, a compelling listen. None of its tracks exceed the five minute mark, allowing anything the listener doesn’t exactly feel to pass quickly. Dfalt is carving out a unique niche for himself in the hip-hop community as a true crossover act, and those interested in the more experimental side of modern instrumental hip-hop should certainly take note of this producer.