Thursday, September 24, 2020

Unlocking the Whirlwind Demos

I've been covering the vinyl releases of Whilrwind D for a long time on this site; but this is something different.  His latest LP, Original Breaks To B-Lines, is a collection of rare, mostly unreleased tracks, remixes and demos, spanning the run of his solo career, from 1990 to 2019.  So some of these tracks are repeats, but many will be new to us, even if they're not brand new recordings, or at least appearing in new versions.  I imagine keeping track of what's new could be pretty overwhelming if you're not a seriously dedicated fan, so this is absolutely the kind of album I'll have to break down track by track... although I am happy to report that he writes some personal notes about each song on the back cover, so listeners and follow the narrative.  And for the record, the sequence is largely, but not completely, chronological, taking us essentially on the journey of his career.

1) 'How I Get Ill' Live at the 02 Bournemouth supporting P.E. - We start out with a live recording, the only one on this album.  It's pretty short, and though it does give us a full verse over a nice head-nodding beat, it acts more as an intro to show what the kind of artist he is and what he's stayed up to even when he wasn't putting out records than a song to collect for its own sake.

2) Battle Tipped Rhyme - long unfinished Solid N Mind (his collaborative effort with producer Johnny F) track that was eventually completed and released on 12" in 2010, which I've detailed here.

3) Centre Stage - Another Solid N Mind track, made for 1991, but not released until 2009 as a Liberty Grooves 12", which I covered here.

4) Butta Funk (Pt. 2) Demo - This is an essentially unreleased track, only put out on an incredibly rare cassette from 1997 entitled Son's Rise.  According to D, there was only "around 50" made, so I think it's safe to say you've never heard this before even though, technically, those tapes are out there.  This one finds him kicking flirtatious love raps and a more light-hearted flow over EPMD's "It's My Thing" instrumental.  And no, I don't know where or what Pt. 1 is.

5) Son's Rise Demo - Another one from Son's Rise (obviously), although apparently this is an "alternative edit," so even if you are one of the fifty people with the tape, you haven't heard this version.  This one sounds a bit muddy, but that might just be the low mix, as this features super deep, Cheetah Records-level bass notes rolling over a bucolic strings sample and some abrasive cuts at the end.  His style here sounds surprisingly Slick Rick-influenced, though not his lyrics: "Sun arrives early in the morning; I'm mourning over time and a new day is dawning.  Words yawning, tired of tireless texts, others always fighting and knowing what's best.  But what's best is a matter of judgement, different assumptions and life's great sentiments.  And then feelings are borne from these; sharks infest murky waters, and seized, diseased, bereaved families lose belief."  This was probably a fairly experimental excursion for him, and it turned out pretty cool.

6) Brainwash Demo - Now we're back to the Whirlwind D we know and love with an early, never before released SnM track from 1990 with some slightly pitched up vocals and a wailing "UFO" sample.  The liner notes say the production was "never really finished," so I don't know if that means this is a reconstruction, or if it's missing some elements and tweaks that were meant to be implemented before it was finalized.  But hey, either way, no complaints here.  This is the kind of candy we rap kids clamor.

7) Carpathian Dreams Demo - This is a slower, more thoughtful track with some heavy bass (though not quite at "Son's Rise" levels), lyrics laden with vivid imagery and some subtle instrumental recurrences of "It's My Thing."  This definitely feels more clean and polished following the previous songs.  And that's because this demo is much newer, an unreleased originally intended for his 2012 WD40 EP, which I wrote about here.  We're definitely shifting, rather dramatically, from era 1 to era 2 here, although we discover a foundational consistency throughout this album, too, which is impressive since it covers nearly thirty years and some deliberate shifts in style.

8) Stronger - This is an album track from his 2014 Nomansland LP, which I covered here, itself an update of the song "Strong" from WD40.

9) Labels - Comes from 2018's Beats, Bits & Bobs EP, which I made a video about here.

10) B-Line Business Remix - This is an unheard remix of the song originally released as a Tru-Tone 7" single (which I covered here), that was also included on the 2016 album Other Side (which I covered here).  Again produced by Specifik, it features the same strumming bassline, lyrics and cuts, but essentially lays some extra instrumentation on top of things, making it both busier (as you'd expect) and hyper (which you mightn't expect).  You can permanently replace the original with this superior version as far as I'm concerned.

11) Doin' It Again - This is a new remix of his 2019 7", "Doin' It," that I wrote about here.  This time Beattrix is reworking Djar One's work, keeping some of the fundamental elements, but slowing things slightly and making it a little funkier.  "Again"'s production fits the vocals a little more naturally and is probably the better version of the song in a vacuum, but the original has a more hectic energy that's still fun to go back to.

12) Written In Pen - This is an unreleased track from 2017, produced by Specifik.  It's another nostalgic homage to his recording history with his label ("B-Line history written in pen"), which feels like we've heard from him several times already.  But the rhythm rides nice and tight and Jabba the Kut creates a really fresh hook.

13) Creature - But if you want something more interesting lyrically, you only have to wait for the next number, another unreleased song, this one written as recently 2019.  Produced by Crease, this has a slow and murky beat as D literally takes on the persona of some kind of creepy swamp monster.  But we slowly begin to realize it's actually some kind of anthropomorphic metaphor for the rise of the alt right: "rising from the deep like a beast no longer asleep, scales and fish tails mark the menace from the keep.  Rising, thrashing, churning, churning.  A creature from the deep, that's what we're all observing.  The horror of the scene is complete capitulation, poshest ones' greed now scorched upon the nation.  Jingoistic, nationalistic attitudes reign.  Every politician has to fall in line and do the same."  I'd call the song great fun except the subject matter is a grim reality.

14) Falling Down - Finally, we have a song taken from his 2017 EP Falling, that I already covered here. A bit anticlimactic, but it is some really great, moody production and a grim exploration of modern times stood out as a highlight when it was first released.

So that's eight new songs or remixes (if you count "Butta Funk") and just five repeats.  Those five make this album a stronger, "greatest hits"-like listening experience, but fans who've been copping his releases all along would probably have preferred five more demos.  Still, if you're a big enough fan to have all those old, limited edition singles, then the unreleased material will make this a must-have anyway.

Original Breaks To B-Lines is a single LP on the German Britcore Rawmance label, limited to 200 copies.  100 are pressed on white (white) vinyl, the other on standard black; and both come in a stylish black & white picture cover.  It also comes with an insert, illustrating his entire discography and a Britcore Rawmance banner ad illustrating their own.  The sound quality is pretty bold and clean.  Only the demos are a little rough.  "Butta Funk" sounds like it's from a rough source and has a good deal of background noise, and even then, the vocals sound pretty clear on top of it.  "Brainwash" has some definite hiss behind it, but not enough to sap any of its energy.  Suffice to say, this is a high quality pressing of some high quality music.

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