I was first introduced to Los Angeles/San Diego producer Mike Gao’s music when I peeped a Daisuke Tanabe collaboration as I was just getting into ECM (Ear Candy Music, I just coined that). At the time it wasn’t easy to find much work of his, but what I did hear was enough to convince me that I should keep watching this guy. His blend of hip hop, space funk, abstraction, textures, and a sound design repertoire that could pull it all together cohesively meant he was going to do some serious damage. Enter Beta World Peace.
Without exception, these are seven bangers. Each track is a creature that lurches along with its own personality, palpitates, and slobbers kicks, hats and snares as it walks. Where Gao excels is in sculpting and sequencing sounds in an original way. His sound design game is off the charts.
The bass that welcomes us to Gao’s world in “Vamos” is redonkulous, and the redonkulosity doesn’t let up for 24 minutes. There’s something deliberately sticky and thick about the drum and bass processing that makes his beats feel like they’re scratching and clawing at your speaker cones. In “Comin Off That High” we are treated to some old school rave/footwork/juke sounding stuff. Then Gao does a quick synth stretch and throws us into the trap pit, then pulls us back out to do it again. I don’t know what high I’m supposed to be coming off of but it’s not working.
Though it’s clear Gao shines at sound design and beat-smithery, sometimes this means the work sacrifices the song as a work of art for the indulgence in these wild sonic acrobatics, but what is at first a challenging meandering feel at its best becomes a language Gao can use to explore horizontal collage and the element of surprise.
“Udon Quixote”, exemplifies this habit. The first minute is a sustained onslaught of synth heavy space funk with crunchy bass. Then without warning we cut to a totally different section based only on a vocal sample and a jazz horn section. As quickly as it disappeared, our tasty space groove reappears. To Gao’s credit, the two sections are kept in the same sound-world by the drum processing and tempo consistency, and the juxtaposition of the minimal section with the synth explosion brings new focus to the power of that complex jazz/soul chord progression.
“Precipice (Precipitate)” stands out as the most successful extreme of this idiosyncratic meandering quality as Gao succeeds in being minimal, intricate, and specific while juggling disparate sonic elements and transitions the song to a confident new place with the almost breakbeat sounding drum roll sample sounding oh so perfectly woven into place. The difference here is that subtle sounds like those sunny synth chords are maintained throughout the transition to gradually pull us into a new place.
Across the board, Beta World Peace Gao creates ear candy and high energy, booming beats. Knowing Gao’s work ethic and track record, this is just a preview of bigger things to come for its producer. World Peace 1.0?
Mike Gao’s ‘Beta World Peace’ is available now via HW&W.