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UGLY DUCKLING: Moving At Breakneck Speed (2011)

Proof once again that three is the magic number as Long Beach trio Ugly Duckling return with their fifth studio album Moving At Breakneck Speed. In their eighteen-or-so year career Andy C, Dizzy Dustin and Young Einstein have outlasted peers like Jurassic 5 and latterly maintained a higher worldwide profile than other West Coast underground acts they came up with like People Under The Stairs, Dilated Peoples, Foreign Legion, and Quannum as well as the further afield but more musically similar DJ Format and Abdominal. In fact they give every sign of having the staying power of another goofy rap trio from even further back in the day who also released a studio LP this year…

Moving At Breakneck Speed finds the band in concept album land again for the first time since Taste The Secret though now it’s not meatshakes on the menu but a tale of a band on the run, pursued around the world by – ‘a gang of super criminals.’ It’s probably not that far from the truth. With the digital era annihilating profits gained though physical releases, you need to make an income through live appearances and if you don’t have an income you wind up at the mercy of the man. He might not always have an outlandish accent and twizzle his moustachios as he does on this (“Search every town, ransack every house!”) but he’s still out to get you.

And so to the music. Funk and Latin sample-based beats? Check. Andy and Dizzy tag team rhyming? Check. Old school scratching? Check. UD never forget that hip-hop was originally dance music – in fact they’re one of the few hip-hop acts (even in the retro rap crew) who don’t. Second track Momentum is an obvious party bump shot through with big horns but nothing on this LP is more party than the recently released Elevation. An upbeat theme, a fat beat and a hands in-the-air close vocal harmony in the chorus – it’s a gold-plated dancefloor banger and there’s way too little of this sort of thing around. Don’t believe me? Check how many nufunk/ ghetto funk and reggae remix artists are using and re-using the same hip-hop acapellas time and again because they know the crowd want the stylish delivery and wordplay of the old school hip-hop MC but want new party beats that make them do more than nod their head. Or just go to a night playing nineties hip-hop and see the place go off.

It’s not just the music that radiates a positive vibe either. Take One Horse Town (“Everywhere you go you see the same faces/ And everyone’s known on a first name basis”) where Andy and Dizzy go in over a hayseed hip-hop beat to give inspiration to those who just might want to buck the oppressive weight of conservative thinking. Even the laid back How It Used To Be which appears to bewail the passing of the golden era “The West Coast getting back on the map/ J5, Dilated and the rest of the pack…from the trap I wanna get loose and free/ And go back to the way it used to be,” is really about re-routing your thinking. “Wait a minute, this is crazy/ I need to do a one eighty/ And go back not to a place or time but a state of mind/ I can age like wine.”

The set is punctuated with De La/ Third Bass style skits and there’s also time (as with Audacity) for Einstein to lay down a latin-funky scratchtrumental (the six-minute-long Einstein Buys A Monkey), Dizzy and Andy to trade verses over the nearly 140 bpm Sprint, and (what has become something of a tradition) the dreamy closer Homecoming. Only it’s not the dreamy closer since it’s followed up by the funky one minute-long Breakneck Theme and then the real dreamy closer and Bruce Brown film referencing Endless Summer. If Robert August and Mike Hynson listened to hip-hop – it would sound like this.

Ugly Duckling once more, then. A band who seem to be aging like wine. My wax is on pre-order – what about yours?
(Out 10 October on P-Vine)

Ugly Duckling is back with their fifth full length album MOVING AT BREAKNECK SPEED. After more than a decade in the music business, Young Einstein, Andy Cooper and Dizzy Dustin are well accustomed to the recording process and for their latest LP the boys dug deep into their bag of tricks to create what they feel is their most dynamic and complete release to date. MOVING AT BREAKNECK SPEED is an exciting and musically exotic, adventure story that has our desperate heroes circling the globe to outrun an evil gang of super criminals determined to put an end to UD once and for all. The record is made up of 14 power packed tracks that showcase Ugly Duckling’s classic production sound and the humorously soulful and flavor-rich vocal styles of Dizzy and Andy. “By the time you work on your fifth record, you ought to know how to do it, right?” asks Andy. “I think we put all of the pieces together to make a really, really good album”.

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