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Review: DJ Paypal Makes Footwork Funny on ‘Sold Out’

7
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: November 13, 2015
Label: Brainfeeder

Anonymity is often the basis for austerity — occluded features and ego removal as a mirror for reverb-obscured instrumentals and bombed-out soundscapes. Even Burial’s revealed himself now, so it’s a mostly tired pose when po-faced bros armed with a copy of Untrue and FruityLoops start driving the Night Bus with a mask on. North Carolina’s resident Teklife associate DJ Paypal treads dangerously close to that sort of self-serious posing (he’s interview-shy, no one knows his real name, and he seldom appears at gigs without a T-shirt draped over his face), but his new LP Sold Out makes it clear that if his countenance is to remain obscured, it’ll be by clown makeup.

Between his goofy name, the album title (a winking nod to the fact that this is his first release for a true electronic music institution, Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder), and a sort of juke Muzak approach to his usual crew’s footwork explorations, Paypal’s fooling around to a degree that the Faceless DJ archetype generally doesn’t. It’s not a new approach for a producer whose previous full-fledged release was called Buy Now and who’s been known, on occasion, to drop dozens of dizzy Drake reworks at a time, but Sold Out sublimates his prankster intentions into puckish miniatures that feel life-affirming. Goofy remixes are one thing, but Paypal’s main work here is reclamation. Footwork can so often be steeped in sadness, but Paypal’s insistent on turning his chintzy sample sources — puttering bongos, wheedling new-age synths — into euphoria, a dizzy exercise that results in a collection of tracks as fleet-footed and unpredictable as the Tasmanian Devil’s reign of Looney Tunes terror.

On “Awakening,” horn samples are slurred and supercharged into an unsteady assemblage of Jenga™-block percussion hits and deftly dribbled kick drums. It’s something like if the late DJ Rashad (a looming presence over this and every Teklife-affiliated release since his passing) had tried to rebuild “Yakety Sax” out of little more than marshmallows and toothpicks. It should be absurd. So should the puttering conga drum breaks on “Slim Trak” or the Great Glass Elevator music ecstasy of “We’ve Finally Made It” (a collaboration with Teklife’s other rising star, DJ Earl). But the beauty of Paypal’s work is that these surreal moments allow him an easy line to the heart. When someone doesn’t take themselves too seriously, you pay attention when they level with you. So when, as on “With Uuuuuuu,” an off-kilter kick drum slowly works its way back onto the 1s and 3s and then everything just clicks, the downcast soul samples are able to pluck at heartstrings unobstructed. You laugh, you lower your guard, and the masked man comes in for the kill.

So in spite of the giddy playfulness, it never comes off as a lark. You’ll get no closer to ascertaining his actual identity, but as the balance between jokes and earnest emoting narrows, Sold Out presents something of an abstract portrait of the man behind the haze. It’s sort of like a photonegative to his Brainfeeder boss’ You’re Dead!, all of its diverse black and blue hues transformed into belches of pink and green — eye catching and affecting in equal measure. And like that record, it earns an exclamation point.