Once upon a time, Southern Californian label Plug Research was known in some circles of the electronic music world as a reputable source for discovering the work of promising young artists. Dntel (a.k.a. one half of The Postal Service, Jimmy Tamborello) released his strongest album to date, 2001's Life is Full of Possibilities, with the imprint, and LA beat-scene godfather Flying Lotus gave Plug Research his debut LP, 1983, back in 2006. Other records of note have surfaced from the hub within that time span, too—Safety Scissors' all-but-forgotten Parts Water LP and some of John Tejada's and Daedelus' early work, for example—but there has been quite a considerable lull in auspicious output since then. To be blunt, it's practically impossible to think of any other truly exciting albums that Plug Research has recently inducted into its catalog. Transitions, the debut full-length by Oakland beatmaker Elephant & Castle, puts a welcome end to that.
Producer David Reep presents music full of unique source material—not to mention unusual applications of those samples—throughout Transitions, but the tunes are nonetheless welcoming and familiar. Opener "Adjoining Souls" and the seamlessly connected "Rise" gradually lead us into Reep's meticulously crafted, constantly evolving, multi-layered sound world—where dusty jazz riffs, tribal drum patterns, bulbous sub tones, reverb-soaked string arrangements, and warm synth pads flit about on some undiscoverable metaphysical plane. It's a musical cocktail that shares more than a couple main ingredients with FlyLo's mystifying Cosmogramma, and on the single "En Memoria," where Elephant & Castle's stellar production skills are shared with the softly cooing voice of fellow Oaklander Tune-Yards, the mystery and sensuality of Stereolab and Broadcast are flawlessly evoked.
The slamming hip-hop beats and funky basslines of "Altered Scones" offer a heavy nod to DJ Shadow's iconic first LP, too, but commonalities with great artists aren't the only things Transitions has to offer. "The Hangar" and "RGB<<" are examples of Reep working on a fresh kind of cosmic, beat-driven soul music that's cooly nostalgic while remaining restless and inventive. The haunted "Formatting..." shows off the producer's knack for crafting engaging and evocative soundscapes, while standout cut "I Will" is a rare Elephant & Castle track that slowly builds from a sparse composition into a bout of emotional catharsis. It all makes for a well-rounded and fully formed debut album by a propitious new artist we look forward to hearing more from.