Shitake Monkey | Street Beef (Outlook)

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Despite jejune lyrics that clearly reflect Shitake Monkey's social statement (that being that contemporary pop is offensively effortless in its production), Street Beef is, indeed, a very finely tuned, imaginative album.

 

If Shitake Monkey's music was played on popular radio, I might actually listen. Oh, what's that? It is? In the form of J-Lo and Lindsay Lohan songs? WTF, I say! That's right, the New York City production trio, taken alone as Baby Peanits (or Electric Pete), Johnny Rodeo, and Chuck Brody, have produced, written, and engineered songs for such "talent" while working at Sony, where the three first met. Since leaving the corporate beast to form their own production company, however, the members of Shitake Monkey have combined their knowledge of tight rhythms, clean hooks, and layered vocals to form a highly accessible lampoon of popular R&B, hip-hop, and dance, with influences ranging from modern pop arrangements to '50s soul. The first result of their tongue-in-cheek brand of experimentation is Street Beef, a seemingly effortless display of mockery that possesses all of the elements of popular radio, yet remains somehow original and fresh. This is most likely due to the fact that Shitake Monkey can actually write songs, and Street Beef is proof that the string-pullers are often the true talent, however faceless they may be.

Despite jejune lyrics that clearly reflect Shitake Monkey's social statement (that being that contemporary pop is offensively effortless in its production), Street Beef is, indeed, a very finely tuned, imaginative album. The songs are formed much in the vein of stick-in-your-head samplers, but the music is original, deceptive, and thoughtfully woven. Similar to the electro-success of Beck, or perhaps the aggressive teamsmanship of the Beastie Boys, Shitake Monkey seems out to prove that contemporary pop and hip-hop have room for originality and unassuming distance in the face of selfish celebrity.

Considering the nature of Street Beef, I find it appropriate to start by mentioning their single, "I'm Gonna Take You Home." Ripe with overlapping synthetics, grandiose horns, and hundreds of blending, filtered vocals, the right marketing and star power could easily make this song a Top 40 mainstay for weeks. What becomes more evident when listening to the rest of Street Beef, though, is that the same could be said for any of these songs. These three gentlemen obviously have complete awareness and control of their skills. They can put their one arm around you while you sing together, and all of the while be putting bunny-ears behind your head with the other. "I'm Gonna Take You Home" was actually rumored to have been sent to radio stations accompanied by fake plastic shit. While it can easily be said that the members of Shitake Monkey have contributed to their share of radio shit (seriously...Lindsay Lohan?), it seems that they have at least taken the good and bad of their corporate experiences and steered for open waters.

Street Beef is a surprisingly complete album, with highlights ranging from the old soul of "N'ere Pie Fire" to the goofy irreverence of album closer, "This Time." It's doubtful that this band will have any amount of radio success while working independently, but their pleasantly lighthearted efforts can at least serve as a wake-up-call to the impressionable masses. As the trio aptly declares on "Two Dudes," "it's such a shame that they can't figure it out!" What's a greater shame is that you'll hear Lohan's name a million times in 2007 without being asked, but you may only hear the name Shitake Monkey this once. B+ | Dave Jasmon

RIYL: Handsome Boy Modeling School, Beck, Ween

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