The Past Beats Inside Me Like a Second Heartbeat Urthboy Elefant Traks
Tim Levinson didn’t like synths a whole lot: “I’ve always been a little bit careful about [them], maybe it’s a bit of an aversion to 80sstyle production; that was a little bit before my time.” With his fifth solo album the Sydney rapper known as Urthboy spreads the electronic love big time. “As time has gone on I’ve really loved how [synths] stretch what you perceive as a hip-hop sounding song,” he says “And while I feel like hip-hop is my medium, it’s not the most important part of what I’m trying to do now. Whatever I do is always going to sound like some mutation of hip-hop, so the synths became a bigger and bigger part of what we did.” It helps in this regard that two of Levinson’s long-time production sidekicks, Luke “Dubs” Dubber and Angus “El Gusto” Stuart, have become, with their giant-killing duo Hermitude, Australia’s latest kings of electronica, playing sellout festival performances across the US.
Dubber and Stuart, along with fellow Urthboy aural magician Pip Norman, lay a solid foundation for Levinson’s excursions into history, both family and social. Opening track Long Loud Hours, which features the exquisite vocals of Bertie Blackman, tells the extraordinary tale of the 1999 Silverwater jail breakout, via a hijacked helicopter, of armed robber John Killick by his Russian lover Lucy Dudko. Sung from Dudko’s perspective, the song, which hit No 33 on this year’s Triple J hottest 100, sets out to redeem the love that motivates criminal behaviour. Second Heartbeat, featuring the sassy vocals of Sampa the Great and Okenyo, is a genealogy of sorts, a hip-hop family tree (“music is my life from before I could breathe / cos my daddy sang my mommy some melodious keys”). Sydney’s property developer scene gets the blowtorch in Hey Juanita, an ode to the missing, presumed slain, heiress Juanita Nielsen, and the theme continues in Wolves at Bay, celebrating the 1970s building union “green bans” that kept Sydney’s Botanic Gardens from being turned into a carpark.
Little Girl’s Dad is a bouncing love song to Levinson’s now three-year-old daughter and Wade in the Water, featuring the phenomenal vocals of long-time collaborator (and fellow the Herd bandmate) Jane Tyrrell, reveals by its title Levinson’s love of the gospel form, but takes it in an entirely novel direction. “What we came up with, and what Jane sang, is totally different to the reference point that we were looking at,” he admits, adding that “even more important than synths (on this album) was a spirit of gospel.”