Phoenix trip-hop gurus Lulu in Hollywood lay down a tempting vibe when they're not subconsciously attempting to turn their music into math equations on Bedlams, their second album. Dark lyrics grace jazz veteran Syl's loungey saxophone lines and Michael Wheeler's space-age hip-hop keys, which are sifted through the break beat strainer and spit back out by DJ Organic. The combo works especially well with the sampled drums holding down the time, leaving the saxophone and keyboards to paint musical sketches on top.
Too often, though, the band takes a "how many sounds can we sample and layer at once?" approach. They're guilty of said trick on songs such as on "Reside Below" and "Everything," with misplaced, incoherent vocals and a multitude of bells and whistles where a back beat is supposed to live. To her credit, vocalist Lena Baisden still manages to do mad atmospheric justice on tunes that have a groove pocket for her smoky alto voice to dip and tumble into, especially on sexy tunes of relationship insanity such as "12 Drinks" and "Stray Cats." Lines like, "You don't think that you and I have something worth my time," from "Stray Cats," sound as if they're lifted straight from the diary of Portishead's Beth Gibbons. Occasionally, Baisden's mates cooperate. "Bena," a heartbreaking saxophone ballad woven tight with sparse drum beats, shows the band's ability to weave deliberately within a reasonable framework. Here, they leave out the unnecessary sparkle, and just ebb and flow together like a bunch of old pros.
Lulu in Hollywood align themselves with trip-hop's elite, but only when or if they get their heads out of the way and just play on instinct. Groove, after all, thrives best on instinct.
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Buy Bedlams at www.geocities.com/lulu_in_hollywood/store.html.