Brainfeeder is the closest thing we have to a real-life X-Men. Since the independent label’s inception in 2008, its founder Flying Lotus — the esteemed Professor X — has built out an alliance of 40 or so visionary musical mutants by offering them a platform on which to visit their singular and often experimental styles on headphones and speakers around the globe. It began as a stronghold of the fabled Los Angeles beat scene – the movement that bore witness to psychedelic collisions of hip-hop, jazz, and a myriad electronic styles – then grew to accommodate artists from far-flung genres who shared the their forward-thinking ethos. Brainfeeder X, the label’s new 36-track compilation, serves to celebrate that defining spirit of adventure while marking their tenth anniversary in business.
Brainfeeder X is both retrospective and comprehensive statement of purpose wrapped into one expansive album. The first side is basically Brainfeeder’s oddball take on the greatest hits format, an assemblage of 17 songs culled from the constellation of gems the label’s artists have created over the years. It highlights many of the artists that helped define the label’s earlier years, like Daedelus, Tokimonsta, and Teebs, and it includes some songs that have underground popularity, from Thundercat’s effortlessly wonky “Them Changes” to Mr. Oizo’s deeply disturbing “Ham.” The second side presents the current Brainfeeder — a sprawling collection of 19 tracks, most of which were previously unreleased, that brings into the fold many of the label’s newer artists, like George Anne Muldrow, George Clinton (!), Brandon Coleman, and Ross from Friends. Together, these 36 tracks shine a light on Brainfeeder’s unfathomable depth of talent and boundless stylistic breadth.
Listening to Brainfeeder X occupies the same amount of time as watching Return of the Jedi; it’s an odyssey whose length is only amplified by the sharp turns that occur between songs. Taylor Graves’ gentle, aqueous “Goku” gives way to the fever dream that is Little Snake’s “Delusions.” The belligerent R&B of Dorian Concept’s “Eigendynamik” gives way to the whimsical funk of Louis Cole’s “Thinking.” The first journey through Brainfeeder X is an incredibly immersive experience with terrain akin to that of an acid trip, with several peaks and valleys. For 129 minutes, the album summons the listener from world to world before they can get too comfortable with any one sound. There are several plaintive sections though, including the final song, Locust Toybox’s “Otravine,” an orchestral benediction that emanates the bittersweetness of a Pacific Ocean sunset.
The second half of the compilation, which is of more interest to long-time Brainfeeder admirers hungry for new material, yields an abundance of fresh jams. Among them: Georgia Anne Muldrow’s “Myrrh Song,” a love letter worth plagiarizing for your own personal use (“You make the wind want to move”); Moire’s “Lisbon,” a soulful, unassuming salve of a house track; WOKE and Clinton’s “Lavishments of Light Looking,” which places dense harmonies atop a DJ Quik-style stomp; and FlyLo and Busdriver’s “Ain’t No Coming Back,” which recalls the blazing swing, indignant shouts, and frenetic saxophone of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly-cut “For Free?” Brainfeeder X demonstrates that there is no such thing as a unified Brainfeeder sound. The trait that connects Brainfeeder artists is a common interest in exploring the liminal spaces between genres. If there is a shared aesthetic trait, it is perhaps an emphasis on texture, whether that be the inclusion of a simple sound effect (the squeaky toy of “Yellow Gum”) or something more pervasive (the shimmering, metallic sheen of “Black Salt”).
A record label is first and foremost a sherpa that guides artists as they scale the treacherous inclines of the music industry. Of secondary concern is brand notoriety; an immaculate reputation can attract artists and consumers alike. In only ten years, Brainfeeder has established itself as a near-legendary independent label and one of the world’s most vital platforms for musicians who tackle pop with an avant-garde mentality. Brainfeeder X testifies to the vision of both the Brainfeeder label and its roster of artists. It’s sheer depth and exploration of musical frontiers makes it a compilation that fans old and new can appreciate equally, a body of work that inspires wonder and suggests that music is a truly limitless art form.