Black Milk Album of the Year

Black Milk Album of the Year
Detroit had a hard year, and so has Curtis Cross. Album of the Year, the Motor City producer/MC's third record, begins with him meditating upon the death of his aunt and his manager's stroke over the vibrant horns and nervy bass line of "365." It sets the tone nicely for one of the best-produced albums of 2010. Album of the Year retains the electronic textures of 2008's Tronic, but fleshes them out with new rock and Afrobeat accents, encapsulating a head spinning level of sonic diversity ― check the James Brown-worthy showmanship on the ruthlessly funky "Round of Applause" or the choppy riffs and drum rolls on "Keep Goin'." It's refreshing to see a belowground producer not content to sit on his laurels; after two records produced with keyboards and samplers, Black recorded Album of the Year with a live band, who built upon sketches created on his MPC. The live instrumentation brings out the muscle of the tracks, with the simmering wah-wah guitars of "Distortion" or the glistening keys on "Oh Girl." And three albums in, he can still surprise: highlight "Warning (Keep Bouncing)" splits the difference between Bay Area slaps and Stereolab, with its hyper-slaps and dizzy Moog synths. Verses from Detroit luminaries like Elzhi, Royce da 5'9 and talented newcomer Danny Brown steal the show, but Black's rapping holds the album together, his breathless monotone ably keeping up with the exceptional production. 2010 isn't over yet, but this album is certainly a worthy candidate for any best-of list.

What were you listening to while recording this album?
Stevie Wonder, Marvin [Gaye], Prince, a lot of J Dilla. I got into more psych rock this time round. I tried to tap into that on the album, if you listen to songs like "Keep Goin'" and "Gospel Psychedelic Rock," I was trying to take the music I was listening to and put a new twist on it. I was listening to Fela Kuti the most, ever since [Tronic's] "Give The Drummer Sum." I have a song called "Round of Applause" on the new album where I revisit that style as a big jam session.

What's changed since Tronic?
It was my plan from the jump to come back to where I left off on Tronic, integrating the live instruments and taking it to another level. I'm the kind of person who gets tired of the same old style. With the band, I had an opportunity to do different song structures; I wanted this album to be more melodic.

How has the band changed your approach to performing?
When you see my show, it's not about me rapping and a live band playing; it's me interacting with the band, jamming with my band on the MPC. When I was [rehearsing], I [studied] old James Brown and Prince footage, just to try to get that vibe, that showmanship. (Decon)