Dubbed Out in D.C. and Sounds from the Thievery hi-fi

various artists
Dubbed Out in D.C.
Eighteenth Street Lounge Music

Thievery Corporation
Sounds from the Thievery hi-fi
Eighteenth Street Lounge Music

MY WORKING DEFINITION of "bossa nova" was formed in 1983 with my purchase of the first in a long line of shoddy Casio keyboards. One of a host of cheesy preset rhythm tracks, the so-called bossa-nova loop was the ultimate in sub-drum machine kitsch. Sure, its slinky shuffle was vaguely alluring--"What is that? Spanish? Cuban? Mexican?"--but it takes both listening experience and puberty to open a young New Waver's mind to the savory fruits of Latin influence. At age 10, sadly, I had neither.

Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, the minds behind Washington D.C.'s Thievery Corporation, don't much care where or how they first discovered the joys of bossa. What does concern them is how the gentle influence of Brazilian and Caribbean rhythms flow into the Corp's first-rate ambient dub and hip-hop soundscapes. Their obsessions bloom brilliantly on both Dubbed Out in D.C.--a hearty compilation of D.C. electronica--and the duo's own full-length disc Sounds from the Thievery hi-fi. Both records have been released on the burgeoning Eighteenth Street Lounge imprint, named for the downtown D.C. mansion--located five short blocks from the White House--that the collective has renovated and turned into a club/recording studio.

Though Thievery Corporation conceived and helmed the project, Garza and Hilton's contributions to the Dubbed Out comp are inconspicuous. Their lead-off track "Transcendence" is a spacey, syncopated mood piece, trilled with a smattering of congas and vocal drones that add carefully measured bits of global color. But the grooves get wild on tracks by the two-man team Thunderball: Their "Ultra Thin" is a serious gas, laying painstaking atmospherics beneath frighteningly jittery drum 'n' bass licks to create a thrilling experiment in restlessness. Solo beatmonger Kevin England works whispery snares and blunted Latin-infected interludes on "Summer Down" and "Maened." Peace Bureau and Liftoff pitch in with earnest cuts that flex a more hip-hop-minded muscle.

Slick sonic nods to Eastern and South American cultures just barely manage to spin a common thread through the album's assorted 11 tracks. But if the compilation reflects an itchy D.C. scene on the verge of stylistic synergy, Sounds from the Thievery hi-fi suggests that Hilton and Garza have already set the scene's revolutionary agenda. On "Vivid," their (a)rousing hand claps and conga flourishes ride confidently over snippets of futurist synth--Caetano Veloso singing with Stereolab in a São Paulo lounge could hardly sound better. Elsewhere, the duo lays Shaft-era guitar clucks and Jamaican dub poetry on top of swanky, swirling rhythmic hybrids. While they occasionally brush up against jungle vibes ("Walking Through Babylon" may single-handedly justify coinage of the subgenre term dub-step), a sturdy arsenal of warm hip hop, jazzy Caribbean horn squeaks, and future-bossa grooves consistently intervene. Alert: There's a new kind of global soul here, and it's unrelenting.

Even more disarming than what courses through these eclectic groove thangs is what's missing from them--namely, the familiar funk riffs and James Brown echoes that keep too many beat experimentalists rewriting the rhythm nation's (tired?) party lines. If more D.C. kids start ditching their staple JB wax in favor of spicy rare groove classics, well, blame it on the bossa nova.

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