Some J Dilla, some Kaytranada, some Erykah Badu: Potatohead People’s newest release, Mellow Fantasy, is many things and draws from many places. And yet, it only adds up to a small splash in the ocean that is instrumental hip hop. Their style is recognizable in these tracks, but that might just be the problem: it’s too recognizable. Not only are these sounds we’ve heard before, they were better the first time. Potatohead People’s soulful grooves are nods to a great many contemporaries and influences. Unfortunately, there is no flare of originality, as each song booms and pops along to the same general tempo, the same feel, the same instrumentation, without any additions to the conversation.
The most disappointing thing about Mellow Fantasy is that it kicks off with its two strongest tracks: “1st Light” and “In the Garden”. “1st Light” opens up the album with a drum-heavy drive, but of course not without what sounds like samples from a Snarky Puppy session, keyboardists taking turns laying a blanket of zany solos over the kit. It’s a short track, clocking in at 1:50, which is probably for the best as solos such as these always risk redundance after too long. “In the Garden” gives the listener the first glimpse of what this album is actually about: the pocket. In the track’s first third, the backbeat pauses to make way for a sample that says “people overthink it, it’s like no, that pocket feels good”. It can be taken as Potatohead People’s attempt to leave nothing to the imagination, as if this album doesn’t already run “the pocket” into the ground. On a more positive note, Mellow Fantasy’s second track is pretty great. It’s a tune you can really sit back into and feel the groove: the bass stuttering, the drums always a bit ahead of you, everything designed to emphasize the downbeat. Again, “In the Garden” is nothing we haven’t heard before, but it’s entertaining despite that.
Following the opening two songs each track is a relative rehash of the last. Of course, this might be great news for pocket-lovers everywhere, who will get a kick out of Mellow Fantasy’s ultimate repetitiveness. It’s difficult because Potatohead’s release without a doubt qualifies as good, enjoyable music. The issue, however, is that it gets old far too quickly to carry its own weight. If the goal was to offer a comprehensive ode to the pocket, then by all means Potatohead People have succeeded in their quest. It begs an important question for beatheads everywhere: is the pocket enough?