Quantic's debut album The 5th Exotic (2001) remains his greatest work in the fertile world of eclectic, sample-based, instrumental downtempo breaks. This style of chillout was pioneered by likes of DJ Shadow in the early 1990's, soon followed by names like of Bonobo, Jon Kennedy and breakbeat label Ninja Tune.

artist:
Quantic

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Trip hop, breakbeat, nu jazz, soul, downtempo funk, lounge

decades active:
00's - 10's

essential releases:

  • The 5th Exotic (2001, Tru Thoughts)
  • Apricot Morning (2002, Tru Thoughts)

Reviewed by Mike G

Sample culture and hip hop, at worst, recycles riffs from great songs either out of laziness or for purely commercial gain. At best, it cleverly re-assembles fragments of recorded music's rich history to create something new, something much greater the sum of its tiny parts. The best underground breaks and hip hop DJ's and producers belong in the latter camp, and multi-faceted British artist Will Holland aka Quantic is among them.

Quantic's debut album The 5th Exotic (2001) remains his greatest work in the fertile world of eclectic, sample-based, instrumental downtempo breaks. This style of chillout was pioneered by likes of DJ Shadow in the early 1990's, soon followed by names like of Bonobo, Jon Kennedy and breakbeat label Ninja Tune. It all starts with sampled drum breaks - which on their own wouldn't sound much different from other records in the style - but it's the way Holland builds upon them that makes his music special, creating a unique cinema of the mind. Check the incredibly fat downtempo grooves he forges with layered saxophones and trumpets on "Snakes In The Grass" and "Common Knowledge". Or the juxtaposition of romantic piano with a thundering drum break on "Time Is The Enemy" which creates a delicious ambiguity. His finely judged use of old film and TV dialogue samples touches on themes of infinite regression, existential crisis, spiritual awakening, forbidden lust; all heady stuff and done in such a way to create a sense of of intrigue and mystery. The 5th Exotic an unusually intense album for the genre; the jazz, hip hop and funk surfaces barely hide its surreal, psychedelic undertow. 

Apricot Morning (2002) lightens the tone of its predecessor but in the best possible way.  Its jazzy and Latin-flavoured stoner beats are spiced with smart vocal bytes and instrument samples alongside a good deal of live brass. It's intricate, groovy, relaxing and tuneful. It's also the final Quantic album that you could comfortably place in the instrumental chillout category; a number of upfront vocal performances by guests hint strongly at what was to come next.

Holland's recordings since his first two albums - as both Quantic and The Quantic Soul Orchestra - have grown more straightforward and uptempo, sometimes with lyrics by UK soul singer Alice Russell. There are some very good albums among them but they don't really belong here. This is a common enough shift among instrumental hip hop/trip hop producers: they start out in the bedroom all cerebral, grow a following and then face the rather different demands of live performance where audiences are up for a party and need a vocalist to focus on. That's not a criticism, but if like me you prefer the magic of instrumentals then The 5th Exotic and Apricot Morning are the must-have Quantic albums.

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