The late producer J Dilla’s ability to re-oxygenate creaky soul samples is often celebrated as one of his preeminent gifts, but it reflected only a portion of his body of work.
Less analyzed but equally important was the legendary beat maker's ability to seamlessly infuse the automaton funk and fractured experimentation of electronic music pioneers such as Raymond Scott, Giorgio Moroder and the Belleville Three (Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins).
Even less known was Dilla’s love of vocoder pioneer Bruce Haack, a Julliard-schooled, peyote-ingesting polymath from Alberta, Canada. Largely obscure to mass audiences in his lifetime, Haack's appearances on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “The Mike Douglas Show” and “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” fostered his reputation as a kooky uncle playing extraterrestrial-sounding synths to dazzled audiences a decade before Kraftwerk.
Like Dilla himself, Haack was an inscrutable shapeshifter impossible to pigeonhole. He spent most of the 1960s and '70s switching between children’s music, experimental rock operas and acid-rock synth opuses. His collected output runs the gamut from Roald Dahl at his weirdest, Tangerine Dream being covered by Kraftwerk and Devo on strong drugs. Sampled by Cut Chemist and covered by Beck and Stereolab, Haack’s work remains the right kind of weird 22 years after his death.
If no description is more overused than “visionary,” Haack is one of the few artists worthy of the word. Even his swan song, 1982’s “Party Machine,” telescoped toward the future, with Haack collaborating with a young Russell Simmons to create a funky vocoder jam that would probably warp Kanye West’s circuits if he heard it today. The tune is collected with all of Haack’s seminal work on the Stones Throw-released “Farad: The Electric Voice,” a compilation named after his trusted homemade vocoder.
It was executive-produced by Peanut Butter Wolf, who was first exposed to Haack via a road trip with Dilla and Madlib. An instant convert, he’s fittingly remixed Haack’s “Stand Up Lazarus,” a song that references a biblical parable about a man who rises from the grave. Haack isn’t about to escape the cemetery anytime soon, but the stellar “Farad” ensures that his music will get a second lifetime.
-- Jeff Weiss
Download: (Pop & Hiss Premiere)
MP3: Bruce Haack -- "Stand Up Lazarus (Peanut Butter Wolf Remix)"
MP3: Bruce Haack -- "Electric to Me Turn"