Album of the Month: ‘Come to Life’ by Eliot Lipp

Come to Life
Eliot Lipp
(Pretty Lights Music)

Following its emergence in the early ‘80s, electronic music spent two decades surfing the leading edge, pushing forward with exhaustive, exhausting intent. Now deep into its second generation, its evolution has slowed—thankfully!—into an analog of classic rock or the golden age of hip-hop. Fatigued (read: older) fans are content to skip the new stuff and cling to the music they loved years ago, not only out of nostalgia but as a qualitative benchmark.

And so here comes Eliot Lipp, Tacoma born and raised, with his ninth album of hip-hop-inflected electro and zero compulsion to break new ground in a genre he once innovated. Come to Life is a comfortable 35-minute set of electronic beat music, representative of the form Lipp helped establish in the mid-’00s. Back then he ran with buzzier artists like Scott Herren and Telefon Tel Aviv, all of whom were deconstructing hip-hop and infusing it with a heady melodic sensibility and artful production flourish. Even then, Lipp embraced boom-bap classicism, equal parts Pete Rock and Prefuse 73. He released albums on seminal labels like Hefty and Mush, along the way leaving the Northwest to sojourn in San Francisco, Chicago, LA and New York.

Lipp’s been back in Tacoma for two years, settled into a studio and a lifestyle that’s synchronized with his surroundings. His music has always avoided obvious urgency, the desperate bass drops and blustery flanges that clog modern EDM, opting instead for an alluring, confident lean. His album titles suggest his laid-back good-times approach, like 2006’s Tacoma Mockingbird and 2009’s Peace Love Weed 3D. With 2011’s Shark Wolf Rabbit Snake, he found a home on Pretty Lights Music, a trendy boutique label mostly comprising mainstage EDM outfits, and dipped into more aggressive sounds, but with Come to Life he returns to his lane. Only two genre tags are posted to the album’s Soundcloud stream, and they’re all that’s required to fully explain Lipp’s MO: #electronic #funk.

Two more words: “Drunk Walk.” The album’s third song sounds like its title, a giddy electric piano line, woozy turntable jabs and soulful backing vocals wiggling over a sharp trap-kit beat. Sly, playful and catchy, modest little jams like this—as well as the radiant “Ultra” and jazzy “Low Key,” which sounds like an outtake from Paul’s Boutique or Blowout Comb—are catnip.

Lipp expands his ambitions here and there. Album opener “The Entrance” is a kitchen-sink pastiche of his panoply of styles, dizzying but cohesive, and he adds strings and horns to the spacious “Not Quite Awake.” The closing, title track forgoes propulsion for a dreamy meditation, its orchestral swell building to a soulful, cosmic coda as gospel-ish vocals intone, “Now you see it come to life…” It’s a potent finale, unfastening the album in time and pointing toward whatever Lipp is planning next.

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