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Unagi: Reinventing the Eel

By Sam Devinereviews
Jul 8, 2009 - 12:16 AM

Listen to "Song of Satisfaction" ft. Eddie Meeks

Download: "Song of Satisfaction" ft. Eddie Meeks

Ask yourself if you got ten bucks to lay down on a handful of tasty little rhythm rolls, a couple good raps, and a few mediocre pairings of beats and off-the-cuff flows. Cause that’s the deal that Unagi is offering with his new album, Reinventing the Eel. And, while it’s not a straight steal – like that divorced wife selling her ex’s Porsche for $750 – it’s not a bad offer.

In the past, Unagi has produced strange, danceable concoctions of layered flotsam and jetsam from the worlds of soul and electronica. He’s reinvented the eel by inviting a number of guest MCs to spit over his tracks. All in all, the album has an experimental feeling to it, groovy and eclectic, like a less pretentious version of ultra-lounge. And while it won’t make you call up friends and say, “Ah, shit! You gotta hear this!” you may find yourself quoting some of the funnier lyrics while at the bar or choosing to spin the disc when friends come over.

The instrumentals on the album are the stronger, more listenable tracks. “Herb Man Theme” blends the horn blasts and disco strings of 70s TV themes with modern synth bass lines and jungle inspired break beats. Veterans of Burning Man will easily bob their fuzzy hats and goggles to his down tempo beats like “That Glow.” And while hardcore hip hoppers may find his beats busy and strange, they might also respect his incorporation of distant genres, fusing jazz and break beats with elements from the more sugary side of house music. "Funky Drummer" sprinkled with triple hand claps anyone?

Unfortunately, most of the guest rapping is kinda clumsy. The one exception is “Grown Man Flowin” (featuring Motion Man). With light speed rappin’ against too-cool, laid-back rhythms of buzzing cymbals, humming keyboard chimes and a bass line that sounds almost as cool as the one on Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” this is an awesome track.

However, “The Making,” featuring Infinito 2017, sounds like there was a minimal amount of collaboration between DJ and rapper – that perhaps an afternoon was spent writing a rap on the spot and throwing it over a previously produced rhythm track. The hook starts with a beautiful female vocal singing, “I want you to know where I’m comin’ from.” And all that Infinito adds is “like so on and such…” Doesn’t seem like he had shit to say. Where is he comin’ from? It’s too bad, because his style and pace are killer, but he’s just not sayin’ anything.

The best rapper on the album might be the DJ Eel, himself. His delivery is a little slow and up tight, and the words are cheesy as hell, but it feels like he’s being cheesy on purpose, like he made a super-sweet, give-diabetes song for a lady he is super-sweet on just so she could laugh at him and his cheesy rap. It comes together as groovy and funny: “When we started kickin’ it, I admit I was a bit nervous / but I kept it under cover just like the secret service / workin’ for the president, mutual interest evident / but we shared the same residence so I was a bit hesitant…When you’re next tah me it’s ecstacy, no shit / but it’s better ‘cause it’s free and not twenty bucks a hit… Lookin’ good in the bed on your side, back, or belly / me and you, we go together like peanut butter and jelly – never smelly because you always keep it clean / going down on each other like a pair of submarines.”

It’s hard to argue with rapping that makes you laugh – even if it’s more of an “at and not with” sort of laugh.

So, needless to say, while bringing this fresh if not always convincing material, Unagi doesn’t seem to take himself over-seriously. He’s not frontin’ that he’s someone he’s not. For example: remember that Snickers commercial where the straight-laced white dude pops up out of nowhere with an acoustic guitar and sings the song of satisfaction to the world? Creamy caramel waterfalls over chunky nougat mountaintops? The last song on Reinventing the Eel, “Song of Satisfaction,” is based off that commercial. It’s an admittedly goofy hook to craft a song around, but it’s cool too see someone trying to develop what would have been a decent idea if an advertiser hadn’t gotten to it first.

A decent album with a couple of good tracks and a lot of near misses.


Sam Devine freelances for several Bay Area publications, including the SF Bay Guardian.

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