Review: Dâm-Funk Strives to Fuse Past and Future Funk on ‘Invite the Light’
Release Date: September 4, 2015
Label: Stones Throw
Five years ago, Los Angeles-based minor groove deity Dâm-Funk unleashed a two-hour mix on Mary Hobbs’ BBC Radio 1 show. Imperiously titled “The Future of Modern Funk,” its 19 tracks ran quite the gamut. There’s genre-hopping Earth mother Fatima’s “Warm Eyes,” an introduction from Dâm-Funk’s now-deceased drummer Jovan Coleman, a.k.a. J1 (a reference to the code for artist visas), and “Jungle Funk” by a band called Pudge, which is almost impossible to find info about online.
The eclectic selection brought to mind the opening signature of another BBC 1 franchise, the Essential Mix: “It was soulful, it was techno, it was disco, a kaleidoscope of sounds, it was truly underground” — which, though it lacks the key word “funk,” brings the universe of Dâm-Funk’s encyclopedically music-referencing mind to a full-circle. The singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer born Damon Roddick told SPIN as much himself about the music that inspired his most sophomore studio LP, Invite the Light. “I’m timeless,” the artist said of his follow-up to 2009’s sprawling Toeachizown. “I don’t know how old I am. That’s what made me different.”
Much like Dâm-Funk’s instrumental opus with vocalist Steve Arrington, 2013’s Higher — which may as well have been a solo effort for how much his staggered waver uncannily evinces that of the Slave frontman — Invite the Light’s 20 tracks assemble touchstones that transcend the continuum of space, time, and the location of P-Funk’s Mothership. Guests include “Baby” collaborator Ariel Pink, who colors his echoing, slightly flat murmur with flute accents on “Acting,” 7 Days of Funk spirit animal Snoop Dogg, whose smoke-smoothed croon is present on album mantra “Just Ease Your Mind From All Negativity,” and funk father-and-son Leon Sylvers III and IV, who mind-meld on what could have been a baby-makin’ B-side from Man on the Moon II, “Glyde 2nite.”
Except for detours down the left-hand path on the ominously whispery “HowUGonFu*kAroundAndChooseABusta’?” and the nearly exorcism-like “The Hunt & Murder of Lucifer,” the LP strives for luminescence, or hypnosis as therapy, or both. Generally speaking, the chords are uplifting, and the percussion is transfixing and ASMR-friendly (as on eight-minute odyssey “O.B.E.”), while guest stars only deviate from the soothingly altered-state norm as necessary (see the harmonious if incongruous combination of JimiJames, Kid Sister, Nite Jewel, Novena Carmel, and Jody Watley on “Virtuous Progression”). Invite the Light’s most definitive track, in title at least, is probably “Skatin’ (Towards the Light),” which meanders pleasantly (if aimlessly) towards an easily projected-upon idea of “the light”; with lilting scats, piano noodles, and a bass line so fat it feels like you could wrap your hand around it.
“Talk about a time machine,” wrote BAM’s Ramzi Awn about advance track “We Continue” on song deconstructionist site The Singles Jukebox. “Is this a new song? Not a Loose Ends B-side? Not René & Angela? Because I feel like I just woke up in 1986 and I have to decide which trapper keeper to bring to school. Which, obviously, is my favorite way to wake up.” Indeed, Invite the Light is perfect for those times when you need gentle inspiration for cracking open the blinds and facing the world, but the album’s lithium-like vibes are more stabilizing than invigorating. And that can’t help but feel like a slight comedown from a musical genius so wedded to the tradition of George Clinton’s “beautiful stink.”