An inveterate crate digger with a distinctly off-beat sensibility, Adrian Younge has quickly defined himself as a unique reimaginer of old sounds, finding new life in the dusty world of soul samples and ‘70s vinyl fetishism. First was his dead-on soundtrack for the blaxpoitation spoof Black Dynamite, providing embellished funk backings that matched the film’s obsessive visual specificity. With Something About April, he established his Prince-style abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, figuratively remixing the sound of an era while literally remixing himself, transforming an album recorded years prior under the name Venice Dawn. On Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics, Younge takes this process of reproduction one step further: Rather than simply summoning the spirit of a classic genre, he goes as far as to bring back one of its originators, crossing the Delfonics’ conventional style with his own oddball formalism.
Created on this worlds-collide basis, and not as a blatant cash-in project, the album is already miles ahead of most competitors in the nostalgia field. The initial sign that Younge is up to something unusual is his choice of the Delfonics, a pioneering Philadelphia soul act that, while responsible for a few scattered hits, is definitely a footnote in the world of ‘70s R&B. Known to contemporary audiences mostly for two songs heavily featured in Jackie Brown, they’re identified by frontman William Hart’s pleading falsetto croon. Younge singles out this voice and milks it, playing up its weird, keening qualities and pushing in an opposite direction from the band’s original hits, which buttressed Hart with deeper backing vocals. Here most of the vocal accompaniment floats around in a higher register, turning both solo tracks and duets like “So In Love with You” into ethereally tinged falsetto explorations.
Co-writing the album with Hart, Younge comes up with 13 tracks that isolate memorable elements of classic R&B and places them within an off-kilter hip-hop template, using repetition and live instrumentation to establish a clear divide between past and future. All this is couched in a warm, vinyl-redolent sound marked by thrumming electric piano, heavy basslines, and soft drumbeats anchored by ringing ride cymbals—a sound that’s especially notable in a pop world increasingly dominated by automation and electronics. It’s this warmth that likely enticed Ghostface Killah, whose reliance on funk and soul backdrops has become increasingly intertwined with his escalating fogeyism, into choosing Younge as the producer for his upcoming album. Time will tell whether Younge can push Ghostface in a more forward-thinking direction, but his work on Adrian Younge Presents highlights an ability to reanimate would-be museum pieces, selecting interesting features and pushing them in new directions.
The main issue with the album is that, while other projects have afforded Younge total freedom to pursue avenues of weirdness, here he’s still trading on the reputation of the Delfonics brand, which forces him to make certain concessions to normalcy. Tracks like “Life Never Ends” offer notable digressions on established soul patterns, but they’re still far more ordinary than the songs on Something About April; though Younge twists the format, he’s still somewhat beholden to standard structures, abandoning the abrupt tempo changes and freeform fugues of his previous album. This means that Adrian Younge Presents is intermittently thrilling, taking familiar genre signifiers and scrambling them within a less rigid context, but also eventually formulaic in a different way, setting a fixed eccentric template and largely sticking to it.