Album review: Pillowfight, Pillowfight 

The collaborative LP by Dan the Automator and Emily Wells sees the light.

San Francisco hip hop producer Dan the Automator has demonstrated his collaborative genius in a multitude of groups over the past 16 years, his long list of credits encompassing Deltron 3030, Lovage, Handsome Boy Modeling School and Gorillaz. Pillowfight is his passion project with multi-instrumentalist songstress Emily Wells. The twosome were introduced by mutual friend/musical cohort Kid Koala, and enjoyed an instant studio connection and fertile creative exchange that transformed a few songs into a full-length record. When painter/muralist/graffiti artist David Choe (the man behind Obama’s grassroots street art campaign) signed on to create album artwork and videos for the project, the hype machine began in earnest. Pillowfight’s eponymous first LP was finally unleashed last week, revealing that Dan the Automator is still undeniably capable of serving high quality work to the head-bobbing masses.

Pillowfight is made for late night drives and 3 a.m. conversations, the finely layered sample-scattered production and grooving down-tempo beats of Automator building its trip-hop noir-ish drama and moody atmospheres, while Wells’ sultry, smoky-luscious vocals infuse the songs with cool and slinky post-jazz sexiness. Whether she’s tempting and seducing in drawn out molasses-easy croons, piping tunefully through romantic higher soaring ballads, or stringing together frankly-worded sing-song rhymes, her cadenced delivery is impeccable and marked by deftly-placed syllable stutters and word tripping repetition.

The dozen tracks have a loose-running theme exploring the volatile flavors of relationships – the fun and flirty thrills and sexy upbeat good times, like disco skate rink jam “Get Down” and more sinuously skulking “In the Afternoon”; feelings of appreciation (“You’re So Pretty”), obsessiveness (“You Don’t Need Me”), unreturned affection and under-appreciation (“I Work Hard”); moments of loneliness, depression and defeat (“Used to Think”); the sweet taste of nostalgia (“Rain”) and sharper tang of loneliness (“Lonely City”); forgiveness, tenderness, and the exaltation in too-fleeting bliss (“Darlin’ Darlin’,” “Sleeping Dogs”).

The nimble turntable shreds and warp-smeared notes of Kid Koala liven up the mix, and guest emcee Lateef the Truthspeaker provides low-voiced support on odd-placed verses and backing vocals. Unfortunately, the album’s weakest moment occurs when he steps to the mic’s forefront in “Redemption,” his flat inflection and unyielding monotone the only unwelcome notes in the album’s overall natural flow.

Nevertheless, the debut outing from Pillowfight manages to live up to all the hype. It's the the sort of collaboration that makes you wonder how either artist has gotten along without the other for so long. (Bulk Recordings)

4.5 out of 5 Stars

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