Music
10:10 am
Thu April 4, 2002

Baldwin Brothers Cook with Lasers

Move over Alec, Billy, Stephen and Daniel -- there are some new Baldwin Brothers in town...

The Baldwin Brothers' debut Cooking with Lasers shares much in common with Herbie Hancock's most recent release, Future 2 Future. Both albums are loaded with layers of Fender Rhodes piano work and turntable wizardry and both happen to feature multiple female vocalists. But while Herbie has continued his restless search of all things futuristic by enlisting some of the hottest current DJ’s and adding drum 'n' bass beats, the Baldwin Brothers are content to dig through the past, embracing the decade when Hancock was at the height of his career -- the '70s.

In case you were wondering, the Baldwin Brothers aren't actually made up of the four acting Baldwin siblings. "Baldwin" was a code word that founding members TJ Widner (keyboards) and Jason Hinkle (bass, drums, sampling) used when they were kids. "We used it to mean someone who was in-the-know," says TJ. The duo jammed together through high school then reunited after college with two new members, bassist Jimmy Dear and turntablist JB Royal and put out the Funk Shui EP.

Cooking with Lasers is a surprisingly confident first album. Vocal samples appear on numerous tracks, but they don't overrun the music. Album opener "That's Right" features a sliced-up vocal exchange about the instruments in a band. Underneath the samples Widner lays down a soulful yet restrained melody. The sample reemerges and repeats multiple times but the track doesn't overstay its welcome.

"The Bionic Jam" and "Viva Kneivel" showcase samples from "The Six Million Dollar Man" and a recording of an Evel Kneivel daredevil stunt respectively. "The Bionic Jam" is the most frenetic and contemporary sounding track on the album. Take away the occasional horn blasts and you'd swear it was by the Crystal Method. "Viva Kneivel" showcases JB Royal's skills on the turntables before diving into a moody groove with keyboard lines that dive in from all angles. "Are You There Margaret? It's Me, God" is a sly, cool-jazz take of Judy Blume's coming-of-age novel, while "Funky Junkyard" gives a tip of the hat to "Sanford and Son."

Nodding to the future as much as the past, the Brothers also enlist a bevy of babes to inject more flavor into the set. Miho Hatori, of Cibo Matto and Gorillaz fame, breaks into a rap in the jazzy "Dream Girl," Angie Hart, of Frente!, contributes an incredibly fragile, clear-eyed vocal to "Deep Down" and Geri Soriano Lightwood from Supreme Beings of Leisure adds polished soul to the gossamer, twitching "Ether." The Brothers do make room for one guy -- underground hip-hop lyricist Barron Ricks (who's thrown it down with Prince Paul, Cypress Hill and DJ Hurricane) checks in on "Urban Tumbleweed."

The Baldwin Brothers don't write songs in the typical way. Their methodology: first, they go into the studio, turn the tape recorder on, and jam free form. Then they listen to the recording, isolate two or three parts they like, and make that into the melodic core of the song. Re-recording bits as needed, they then feed it all into ACID (loop-based music creation software) where they create their piece's grooves and rhythmic skeleton. Then they add samples and/or jam some more over the top, to imbue the song with color and interest.

It's complicated, but through all these steps, the Brothers capture both the visceral rush of live music and the precision of a studio recording. But the technique is not without one little difficulty: "When we then want to play the song live, we have to relearn it," Jason says, laughing. "Our recording process is so integrated into our writing process that we don't know what we did until we play it all back."

Cooking with Lasers Contest:

Strip the Baldwin Brothers' "Dream Girl" for parts and remix up some Baldwin style yourself.