Amp Live has always been a producer with grand ambitions. Hell, the DJ’s first appearance on the scene was him daring to remix Radiohead’s In Rainbows , an album that’s often held sacred as a modern classic. Raindayz Remixes gave a new context to the band’s opus and Amp Live’s remixes truly felt novel even though they burgeoned from someone else’s original work. For his latest LP, he brings us Headphone Concerto, a record full of lofty concepts and some heady, lush beats. Beneath all of the flash and pretensions (the record is divided into three “movements”), there’s little substance to back it up. In due time, the album reveals itself for what it truly is: a middling hip-hop affair.
After the brief intro, a bombastic horn fanfare underscores a corny mantra from rapper Eligh (“L-O-V-E, that’s the key to it all”) on “Last Wall.” The brass section might be a nice touch, but it’s not enough to pardon Eligh’s phoned-in performance. In turn, “Last Wall” feels lifeless and blasé, the complete opposite of what an opening track should be. But Amp Live isn’t completely clueless when it comes to composing certain tracks, “Flight in G Minor” storms in with its rapid-fire cello fusing classical elegance with a grimy hip-hop pulse.
Too frequently, the dull features on Headphone Concerto bring nothing with them and this lack of enthusiasm drags the songs down. It doesn’t sound like they’re having any fun—so why should we? Eric Rachmany of Rebelution provides the vocals for “Signs” a woozy foray into electro, but his pinch-nosed singing can’t survive the transition into electronica (not to knock his soulful performances when he’s fronting his band). We have to wait till the album is nearly halfway done before we get a memorable feature when a revolving door of hungry indie Bay Area spitters (five, if we’re counting) transform “Ihearthiphop” into the most worthwhile track on the entire record.
Amp Live deserves some credit where it’s due. Most of the tracks bleed into each other resulting in Headphone Concerto sounding like one cohesive piece. More often than not, orchestral arrangements work in the producer’s favor as he attempts to elevate his standard hip-hop beats to the next level. Amp Live litters his album with pointless instrumentals whose verbose titles (like “No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 2 Potencia”) suggest something greater and end up sounding more self-important than anything.
Running just shy of an hour, Amp Live’s Headphone Concerto could afford to reach the coda a little sooner. Too much filler and grey moments cloudy the chances of this record from gaining any steam. Amp Live’s true passion for his craft peeks through every so often, but it’s not enough to keep the listener tuned in for the whole duration of the album. Even if these songs were blasting in one’s titular headphones, they do little to garner full-attention.