Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book is a breezy piece of sampladelica from the Manhattan hip-hop producer. Less jazz-oriented and generally more uptempo than 2005’s Downtown Science, this record re-produces musically the simple pleasure of an afternoon spent in a sunny drawing room with a pack of crayons, a coloring book and a bowlful of gum drops.
One of the funnest things about these cut & paste sample mash-up records is seeing how many generically disparate sounds mesh together in a single tune. Thus on “The Strain”, cheesy cocktail jazz meets 50s-style doo-wop meets classic soul meets opera. On “Squirmy Worm”, a gibbering Jew harp wriggles ticklishly under what sounds like a muffled a capella group singing 17th century polyphony – later in the track, a Big Trouble In Little China-esque pseudo-oriental riff duets with a sitar and some Middle Eastern percussion before a bop-style sax solo takes the stage. And so on. The images Blockhead conjures up are intricate globe-spanning tapestries, so rich in influences that the conceptual correlation between the music and a coloring book probably breaks down. Its doubtful the medium of black and white line-drawing blocked in by incompetent crayon-work could ever really do justice to the complexity of work here. Then again, Uncle Tony has powerful friends.
Blockhead has done a great job of raiding the archives for speech samples too. There are excerpts from old Hollywood movies and BBC radio programmes, all conducive to the wistful smile at the beguiling innocence of previous generations. The best of these crops up on “Trailer Love”; an excerpt from a radio play featuring a “German” couple (undoubtedly English), speaking in hilariously bogus accents – “All day at za laboratory I zaid to myzelf, I can’t vait to get home to the leetle voman’s cooking.”
Yet with any coloring book, you’re going to draw over the lines a bit, and Uncle Tony’s is no exception. The sloppy drumming on opener “Coloring Book” is really quite startlingly incompetent. Also, the tendency to incorporate long jazz solo samples means the music sometimes veers dangerously into loungey territory. There is often a sonic incongruity too between the live instruments/drum machine, and the samples. The instruments could perhaps have been subtly treated to achieve more homogeneity of sonic texture with the samples.
However, I am sure that for some listeners the scruffy edges will only enhance their experience of the album, enforcing the whole childishness of the concept. Those who are not convinced are also likely to be won over in the long run by the record’s general good-humor and cheeky charm. It’s not exactly going to tear your soul to pieces, bathe each shred in unicorn blood then piece it back together perfectly, leaving nothing behind but an eternal throbbing sensitivity. But it might cheer you up.