Along with Blockhead, RJD2 is arguably among the very few that can rightfully claim the title of “Hip Hop composer.” Aaron Livingston, who has collaborated with The Roots and Hezekiah, has a distinctive, soulful, and gritty voice. Of course, any RJD2 project is cause for excitement, particularly when he pairs with a voice as distinctive as Livingston’s to form Icebird—but does The Abandoned Lullaby sound as good as it looks on paper?
“Charmed Life” sets things off with an ever-evolving soundscape for Livingston’s smooth crooning. Dubious keys transform into funky synths, disappearing and reappearing suddenly throughout the track. “Tonight, let’s be civilized / We’ll live a charmed life / I just can’t put you aside / Not just yet,” pleads Livingston on the cut, which brims with character.
The album seamlessly transitions into “Just Love Me” before exploding into “Going and Going, and Going,” which illustrates what makes this album such a treat. Everyman subject matter from Livingston over low-fi electric guitar lapses into a slow, smooth segment before ramping up for a thrilling finish. “Wander” has a swanky swing to it, with descending piano loops that find a perfect home underneath Livingston’s vocals, which are replete with longing. “Return of Tronson” takes the project into otherworld territory for a moment with what feels like an extended interlude, before going into the slightly psychedelic “Spirit Ache.” “I’m Green” explodes with funk, and is punctuated by Livingston’s strained vocals.
It’s hard to say whether this project is greater than the sum of its parts, but that’s not a bad thing. On each track, Livingston and RJD2 each have a distinct presence, and show out for every single one. Simply put, there’s not one weak performance on this album. From the regret of “In Exile” to the unadulterated elation in “FindYourself,” The Abandoned Lullaby runs the gamut of emotions, with producer and singer completely in concert throughout.
People will be tempted to make comparisons between Icebird and Gnarls Barkley, but this project is much more understated. Rather, Broken Bells (another Danger Mouse-helmed effort) is a more accurate one. Aaron Livingston isn’t the bombastic personality that Cee Lo Green is—nor should he be. This is music that’s equally at home in a dimly-lit upscale lounge, or at a low-key basement party. It’s impossible to overstate how rare that type of crossover ability is. Unquestionably, this is one of the most complete works of music made this year, and absolutely speaks volumes about what cohesiveness and attention to detail can do for a project.