Hedluv - Cosmic Sounds

Owain Paciuszko 24/08/2008

Rating: 4/5

Hailing from the Cornish town of Redruth where I grew up my initial reaction to Hedluv's music was one of apprehension, it is, after all, Casio-based rap. The opening track on his debut release 'Cosmic Sounds' can, on first listen, sound a little awkward. Playing the CD to my housemate he pulled an expression of embarassment, but, as the record continued further tracks struck a chord with Hedluv's pop-culture referencing and self-deprecating humour, yet, genuine affection for what he sings about and, beyond Casio loops, a real talent with a good tune.

Hedluv was influenced to start writing songs by his father; "We were lucky enough to have a piano at home when I was growing up, and I started writing songs on it... I remember writing my first song by trying to play the theme tune to Inspector Morse and getting it wrong - I wanted to call it The Uninvited after a computer game I'd been pining for for my Amiga 500, but when I played it in school the music teacher insisted on calling it The Dinosaur Dance. Shortly after this my parents bought me a Yamaha keyboard for Birthday/Christmas and from then on I let the auto-accompaniment button do all the work."

The second track is 'H30 LUV' a love letter to the wonders of being able to drive in Cornwall, but equally its dry humour (much like on following track 'druth') belies a certain level of affection that I think most people who grew up in Cornwall have; even if they complained about it all the time whilst they were there. As Hedluv puts it; "Growing up in Cornwall has stunted my growth, narrowed my horizons and left me with a bad work ethic." Even though the track is rapped over a wonderfully nostalgic Casio accompaniment there's still something inspired and unique and irony free about Hedluv's approach; his inclusion of little falsetto yelps and kick-ass lo-fi breakdowns, all tempered by his marvellously simplistic lyrical observations such as; 'On a holiday I might drive all around in a wiggly manner if you were watching me from space it might resemeble spaghetti or strawberry lace.'

There's a tendency with rappers who are making home-made music that references their hometowns to compare them, inevitably, to Goldie' Lookin' Chain or The Streets; "People have been doing that from day one, but I don't even notice anymore - I've blanked it out." But the humour on display here is less broad than the former and the observations less 'urban' that The Streets. Hedluv's sense-of-humour is at its peak on 'PE report' which literally takes his school PE report as its lyrical basis, with some wry commentary upon the difference between the 13 and the 23 year old Hedluv. It's this kind of relatable sense of self that allows Hedluv's songs to transcend any mis-conceptions one may have about a Casio keyboard's musical 'limitations'. "I used to listen to Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Pavement, and trying to write lyrics like theirs always ended in disaster, but when I heard rap I was like 'they're just talking about themselves all the time'… and I've been doing that all my life."

The album ends its brilliant five track run with the title song, a wonderful 8-bit sounding paean to the joys of playing Super Mario Bros. and, in a wonderful aside, Goldeneye. The song captures a sense of friendship shared through video games with absolutely innocent perfection; "One of the underlying themes of Cosmic Sounds is friendship, and I hope that this is accessible to most people!"

'Joe the Jungleist' is the first stumbling block here, its monologue is a tad baffling and spoken over a slow Muzak beat reminiscent of Ceefax pages on BBC2 at 4am; it feels a bit like an in-joke that only Hedluv and a select few will understand, but he seems happy with this kind of reference; "If there are moments in the album that the listener can't understand then that's good, it means I'm getting closer to becoming a real rapper. I still don't know what they're going on about on one of my favourite albums of all time - 'Even in Darkness' by The Dungeon Family - it's all slang and recipes."

Fortunately this track is relatively brief and quickly followed by 'My 3 Notes' which sees Hedluv upping his own musical game by referencing an old school song based - as the title suggests - around three notes. However just as things are picking up again there is the rather choppy 'Party song' and the (yes I'm going to make the lazy reference) The Streets-like 'Big Mistake?'; which is one of the more sombre and, unfortunately, less sincere sounding tracks on the record.

At this point I was feeling so-so about the record as a whole, the opening run of tracks was very impressive and exploited the 'gimmick' of a Casio rap album as far as I thought it could go, then it managed to wow me once more with 'My 3 Notes' and the weak tracks weren't awful by any stretch, just ambitions not achieved.

Then the final track comes on, 'Caterpillars', and as this song progressed I couldn't help but have a big smile plastered on my face; finding Hedluv wrangling all his resources and collaborators together into a joyous track that swoops majestically from a laidback sunny day refrain into the cartoon-explosion of the mid-section before easing, sleepily back to that sunshine melody. It is a song that finds Hedluv in a completely different character to anywhere else on the album, using the Casio sparingly and charging forth on a bouncy bassline with the keyboard twinkling magically in the background. It is a perfect note to send the album on, and you find yourself forgetting instantly about those 'damp squibs'.

Ultimately you feel like you've been given an insight into someone's outlook on life, their recollections and their friendships, and that's where the charm of this album lies. It feels like the product of a great deal of genuine care and attention, and when it works it soars.

"Making Cosmic Sounds was one of the greatest and most rewarding experiences I've ever had. The whole process took me to great depths of feeling really rubbish at one minute, to enormous highs of feeling like a genius the next… and it all started in the summer of 2005 with a vision of a simple Casio rap record. I'd picked up a new keyboard in a Camborne charity shop and had a clear idea of how the first two tracks would sound. I then quickly ordered an analogue to digital converter with the last of my savings, picked up some pads and biros from Trago Mills, and worked, and worked, and worked. I wrote some terrible lyrics, recorded some god-awful scat in a professional studio, then wrote some good lyrics, got writer's block, became a postman, took two weeks off work to build a 'vocal helmet' out of papier-mâché, started playing guitar again, formed a band, disbanded the band, stopped playing guitar, filled up all my pads with lists, burned the 'vocal helmet' on a bonfire (which I regret now), wrote another list, called in the help of Passman, and finally finished the album in the autumn of 2007. The thing was, because it was taking so long to make, and so much of my time, it had to be perfect… and in the end it really surprised me."

And it may just surprise you too.