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CD review: L'Orange's The Orchid Days 

Mello Music Group; Release date: April 8, 2014

Mainstream hip-hop is all about trends these days — acronyms like YOLO, Facebook likes, Twitter beefs and guest verses for shimmery starlets. To say L'Orange is different would be a staggering understatement. The North Carolina underground producer not only avoids such fads, he also doesn't sample '70s soul, '80s pop or any other nostalgically hip period. No, he draws on snippets from a swing-jazz era that would sound dated to our grandparents.

Such a palette would be unique had L'Orange not used similar styles on each release since his 2011 debut, Old Soul. But rather than becoming redundant, L'Orange has instead deepened this technique, pushing it past an odd novelty and toward a highly distinctive, signature sound.

Sure, parts of Orchid Days fall prey to the same pitfalls of his earlier releases. Some of the vocal samples become tedious and repetitive, especially on the midway cut "Eventually." L'Orange also quite stubbornly includes snippets of dialogue from silver screen matinees on nearly every track — a trick that would have been much more effective if used sparingly. A dozen of those retro skits makes the listener pine for more beats and rhymes. But more often than not, L'Orange strikes the right balance between his polarized muse and medium of choice. And when he does, he becomes one of the most thrillingly unique producers working today.

"Will Wait" loops and splices cabaret coos so precisely, it turns those once-sumptuous performances into haunting moans. The wholesomeness of those swing jazz vocals are spooky and unsettling once L'Orange finishes looping them into ghostly echoing samples, or rattling them with stuttering turntable scratches that make those vintage performers sound like they're writhing in convulsions. It's unlike anything other rap record you'll hear all year, falling somewhere between throwback and forward thinking.

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