Sound: The Beastie Boys bear little resemblance musically to the young, loud, and brash rappers they were back when Fight For Your Right (To Party) came out in 1986. Something has definitely changed the perspective Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D -- whether it was MCA finding Buddhism or the sampling lawsuit back in 2003 -- and the latest album is proof of that transformation. The Mix-Up is an album that would easily fit as the soundtrack from a hipster flick from the '70s, and not a word is spoken or sung throughout any of it. Yes, the rappers are going all instrumental this time around.
Although the trio decided to create music digitally on it's last album To The 5 Boroughs, going instrumental isn't necessarily a huge jump for The Beastie Boys, who have gained respect for playing the instruments that back up their raps. The Mix-Up is an extension of what they've been creating for years, and it is a fascinating listen. There is definitely a vintage feel to the record thanks to the '70s style organ that is implemented into most of the tracks, but the band does find ways to avoid monotony setting in from song to song.
The opening track B For My Name sets the stage perfectly by featuring what sounds like layer upon layer of cool keyboard and organ lines. All the while, the bass, drums and provide a funky background to it all. B For My Name definitely sets a mood, and that mood would definitely be a mellow, martini-drinking one. Other tracks have a more familiar feel to the backup tracks they've used on some of their past rap tunes. In fact, if you were to eliminate the lyrics from The Beastie Boys' hit So What'cha Want, you'd have a better idea of what a few of the instrumentals sound like on The Mix-Up.
The guitar does get it's time to take center stage in songs like 14th Street Break, but even then it is only to strictly carry the melody. It's basically replacing the line that could be sung by a vocalist and never gets as elaborate as some of the keyboard solos. The most guitar solo work you'll hear on The Mix-Up is on Off The Grid, which starts out with a very clean guitar playing subtle blues licks and eventually is given a sonic feel through the use of some very effective distortion. // 8
Lyrics: As you might have guessed, this section is obsolete. Not a word is rapped, and it's up to the music to tell the story. // 8
Overall Impression: For the fans that are desperate for the vocals to return, you're in luck. The band is apparently planning on releasing another version of the album with a pretty wide array of new vocalists, according to Mike D. Now it's hard to say if these guest vocalists will be given more of the focus than the Beastie Boys' rapping, but it should still be interesting to see what they do with the already elaborate songs.
Using everything from good old fashion jam sessions to inserting a bit of sitar along the way, the band has created a rich, layered sound that you'll need at least a few listens to digest. The album does ooze the word cool, but that hipster vibe may not click with all audiences out there. It's a pretty big leap from what the Beastie Boys have created in the past, and that was very likely the purpose behind The Mix-Up. // 8