The rumors are true. DJ Mayonnaise is, indeed, Still Alive. Eight years after the release of his debut—Anticon’s inaugural instrumental LP, 55 Stories—Mayo has returned in more ways than one.
First, to his hometown of Portland, Maine—where he rediscovered inspiration amongst the dusty vinyl bins and damp seascapes of his youth—and now, to the waiting world with sophomore album in hand. Still Alive is both a fitting follow-up to Stories and a reinvention of sorts. While DJ Mayonnaise is still a master of sample and scratch, he’s turned his attention to the art of composition and the subtlety of details. And though Still Alive has its moments of quiet, rainy-day beauty, these serve as counterpoints to a brightness that permeates the songs. Simply put, this album, too, is alive. Lead track “Post Reformat” opens with pop ’n’ click percussion, panning drums and a gurgling synth.
But what seems a mechanical give-and-take turns organic as the particulars are played out on the turntables: minor whirrs, a distorted vocal sample, glassy scratches. It’s evident that Mayo is aware of every sound’s place within the song, and he proves this throughout Still Alive. “Easily Distracted” and “May Days” are paragons of pacing, each rolling out over crunchy drums and building fuzz, but the former bending itself around crystalline keys and handclaps, and the latter following the hypnotic groove of a live clarinet. Conversely, “The Windham Song” is a menacing bit of big beat—surging guitar, percolating kick-heavy drums, deep bass—that explodes into a bright saxophone duet. Mayo’s synth work and the guest instrumentation breathe living air into the album, and by the time Cambridge wordsmith K-the-I??? drops his devastating Howard Zinn-by-way-of-Biggie Smalls diatribe on “Strateegery,” we feel as if we’ve been listening to a clear voice the entire time. Mayo stretches out on Still Alive’s second half—hear the atmospheric jazz and digital croaking on “Dawson’s Anthem 2005,” the Tubeway Army-inspired synth and squelching distortion of “Munjoy Moments,” and the overall hugeness of “Quiet on the Set”—before bringing the album to its final breath. But even as “The End of the Beginning” comes to a quiet close, Still Alive leaves us with the notion that tomorrow’s a new day. DJ Mayonnaise has indeed returned.