Energy Dreams marks Rejoicer (Yuvi Havkin’s) debut for the legendary hip-hop oriented label Stone’s Throw Records, known for housing releases by artists such as Madvillain and its associates, J Dilla, Dâm-Funk, Aloe Blacc and Karriem Riggins, just to name a few. The Tel Aviv-based producer himself has been making his presence known in the past decade with his own label Raw Tapes, through which he has helped to develop an electronic-based hip-hop beat scene in his native Israel.
In title and theme, Energy Dreams seems to inhabit a sort of celestial, lightly purple dream world, one that seems neither overtly benevolent nor malevolent but always curious – indeed, the album’s cover art and track titles are inspired by a series of lucid dreams that Havkin experienced after recording the album. Album opener “Cloud of Me” drops us into this world almost straight away, with some light keyboard flickers settling into a spacey groove fairly typical for the genre, with a snappy clap-snare drum pattern under some echoing, fluttery keyboards. A beat switch halfway through brings in a more steady, almost marching groove, where the bass playing is almost a dead ringer for Thundercat – the same rich, smooth sound and textures brought out by bassist Yonatan Albalak. The clinking sound in the percussion is one that appears throughout the album, giving some of these beats something of a more surreal and organic feel.
“High on Star Dance” is a little busier overall, with a scurrying synth bass over mysterious, pulsating chords soon joined by a wailing, sax-like sound, making for a more dense instrumental. The opening trifecta is rounded out by “Double Astral Move”, one of the more carefree and uplifting pieces – with an excited, lightly shuffling beat and twinkly, playful melodies. Towards the second half, the piece is joined by washes of vintage, ambient synths, bringing to mind Jean Michel Jarre’s 1976 effort Oxygene and evoking the waves on the beach of some faraway planet, in one of the album’s most immersive moments.
“Alien Sphere” maybe goes a little too hard on the phased keys, but the synthetic cello is a nice touch, and the skipping 6/8 rhythm gives it a more active feel. It’s closed out by big sweeps of technicolour over an odd rustling sound. “Neo Drive Knows You” opens with sighing vocals – the only ones to feature on the album. It then turns into a slightly offbeat, buttery smooth bass groove, with a lush chord progression and light flashes of synth, filled out with more unusual percussive sounds – this time, some slightly muted ringing chimes. “Changa Cold Change” might be the album’s dreamiest moment, with odd percussive sounds under a more formless bed of reverbed tones and melodies fluttering about.
Though it is an almost entirely instrumental album, Energy Dreams is graced by the presence of a number of guest musicians, who help to bring out Rejoicer’s beats just that little bit more and contribute to some of the record’s high points. Sefi Ziesling’s majestic and wondrous trumpet section carries “Yesterday’s Forest Magic” wonderfully, adding a whole extra dimension to the track. Lightly urgent, rolling drums are perhaps the album’s jazziest moment and bring to mind images of cartoon animals skipping through a forest.
“Purple T-Shirts” features fellow Stones Throw musician Mndsgn, who contributes the high-pitched whistling keyboards throughout, which are like fireflies rising above the sweet, tangy groove of the track. Nitai Hershkovits’ dusty, somewhat freeform piano in “Lucid Intent” seems to be mixed too loudly on purpose, making for a curious effect of separation from the circling, slightly anxious instrumental background. More of the phased, synthesized cello adds to the track’s odd texture. As the instrumentation fades out, the piano is left to take the piece out by itself, somewhat resembling the outro of the earlier “High on Star Dance”.
“Ancient Energy Search” sees Rejoicer playing with a 7/8 time signature, with a playful ascending bassline rounded out by Nomok’s cascading texture of spacey keyboards. Closer “Rings of There” makes for a mysterious note to end on, with lightly muted, glitchy keys and the burrowing synth bass oddly floating around. It all sounds slightly off somehow – at least, anonymous in a way that despite floating through this dream world for the album’s duration, it may always remain an enigma, both to its creator and its listener.
All in all, while Energy Dreams has no shortage of colourful, curious and fluttery psychedelic sounds, they unfortunately do not often coalesce into something truly immersive. Far too often it falls back into being little more than background music. Not to mention how close the album ends up being to the sounds it takes influence from – rendering it somewhat derivative and at times a little unremarkable. That said, there is definitely potential in parts of this album for Rejoicer to achieve a more unique sound in future, and he hits the right notes enough times to warrant the curiosity of any fan of this kind of electro hip-hop beat music.