Album Review: DJ Orange Julius - The Grove

At first, it sounds like a sample of someone saying “Mo Lethal,” which I could have sworn was something—like, a record label of some kind—relating to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

But the internet has provide me with no results for the phrase “Mo Lethal,” and that’s okay, because that’s not how The Grove actually opens. The opening track, the jittery “Still Geekin’” opens with a chopped up sequence of samples from the song “Breakfast” by Gucci Mane—a song he obviously recorded before his incarceration and recent sobriety. “I smoke weed for breakfast,” Gucci mumbles, his disembodied voice worked into the frenetic beat. “I drink lean for breakfast.”

The sample choice for “Still Geekin’” doesn’t serve so much as a mission statement for what is to come on The Grove, but it certainly does set the stage for the album that follows.

There is a lot going on in The Grove—not just within the confines of the album itself, but also with the enigmatic collective responsible for its release.

Despite the amount of EPs and mixtapes available on the Mall Music Inc. Bandcamp page, The Grove is the debut full length album from Mall Music mastermind DJ Orange Julius—the label serves as the home for his work, as well as that of his similarly named cohorts, DJ Paypal and DJ Mastercard. The three of them work within the shadows—if they conduct interviews, it’s through email or via Skype with no camera; if they perform live, they obscure their faces through masks, bandanas, hats, and hoods. It seems gimmicky, yes, but it also adds to the allure of The Grove, making it all the more intriguing of a listen.

The Grove is an album steeped in the long tradition of sample-based music. It, like many things before it, owes a ton to the likes of DJ Shadow’s groundbreaking Endtroducing…, but it also owes a lot, and is more akin, to the subgenre of electronic music known as footwork, the Teklife crew, and the late DJ Rashad—his first and only studio album Double Cup rejuvenated the mostly underground genre.

I could toss around words like “frenetic,” “jittery,” and “skittering” to describe The Grove—and those are all 100% accurate. Musically, this thing doesn’t let up for a second, even when it abruptly changes tempo mid-song, the energy this record has is exhausting. Nearly every song is structures around snappy, crisp, trappy percussion, and the focus is on cramming out of context vocal samples into strong, driving rhythms—creating a repetitive, hypnotic, infectious, and unrelenting atmosphere.

From the lean and weed breakfast of “Still Geekin’,” The Grove effortlessly slides into the smoothed out 90s R&B flourishes of “Anuva,” the colorful and funk-infused “Skkrtt,” into the Guy-sampling, rollicking and wild “Out on The Floor.”

With the vocal sampling, occasionally Orange Julius moves into Burial territory with drastic shifts in pitch to evoke a specific mood for the song—he does this on the Nat King Cole sampling “Unforget,” which sharply juxtaposes gleeful sounding sped up vocals with those of Cole’s, which are slowed down to a moderately haunted sounding codeine-like drawl.

Following the moody and ethereal piano based “Finally Together,” and the hip-hop posturing of “Motherfuk’n G,” The Grove doesn’t so much lose momentum (how could it?) but it seems to be structured in such a way that it’s frontloaded with its strongest, and most accessible material. It’s not that the returns are diminished in the second half, it’s just that it seems like possibly more time was spent constructing songs with in the first half, and they arrive more successfully executed.

“Footwork” will always been a genre that will be an acquired taste—and an album like The Grove relies pretty heavily on its listener being patience and having a pretty good sense of humor, so it goes without saying that this isn’t for everyone. However, it’s an interesting album—due to the energy it is very tough to concentrate on anything but this record while listening to it—so it is a demanding, though surprisingly fun effort.

The Grove is out now as a limited edition vinyl LP and as a digital download via Mall Music.