Album Review: clipping. – Wriggle

by Dustin

wriggle

7.25/10

You might assume that involvement with the critically acclaimed Hamilton would keep Tony Award winning actor and rapper Daveed Diggs from being involved with clipping for the present. Fortunately, assuming that would be completely incorrect! Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes joined forces once again to craft Wriggle, a six track extended play follow up to 2014’s CLPPNG.

Strap yourself in…

As one would expect with a clipping. project, Wriggle is abrasive. Though the instrumentals feel less noise heavy than their last full length projects, it’s significantly darker in tone than CLPPNG. Wriggle at times sounds absolutely evil, yet it has some of the groups most accessible work. Hutson and Snipes did an excellent job at setting up the atmosphere of the EP, creating a tightly cohesive twenty minutes of unnervingly addictive and angry instrumentals.

Look at all the folk runnin’, marathon,
Like they ain’t got baggage, carry-ons,
Killin’ is the best medicine, diagnosis,
Got death on his breath, halitosis.
(Shooter)

Diggs comes in on this project as sharp as ever. His development as a rapper shines on the tracks “Shooter” and “Wriggle”. As usual, he flawlessly flows atop of the harsh and dense instrumentation. At times his furious rapid fire delivery was on full display, particularly on the aforementioned title track “Wriggle”. His more poetic writing style took a bit of a backseat here (aside from on the track “Our Time”), but it didn’t hold his performance back. There’s not much else to analyze about his performance on Wriggle, aside from the fact that it is consistently very good.

Rarely does Daveed Diggs falter while working with clipping., and that holds true on this project.

She stops by the window of the Walgreens,
Her mascara a mess of a mask,
Gonna pull out a tissue but instead pulls out a phone for a text,
And the flask rattles round in the purse,
A reminder that medicine is already there for the taking,
And the snap when she puts the cap back,
She’s convinced is the sound of her heart breaking.
(Our Time)

Wriggle also boasted an impressive list of features for a short project. Those familiar with Deathbomb Arc affiliated artists will be excited to see another Signor Benedick the Moor collaboration (along with Antwon) on the track “Back Up”. Cakes da Killa, Nailah Middleton, and Maxi Wild also provided their efforts to the tape. With Wriggle clocking in at a modest twenty minutes in length, there was the potential for a poor feature to stand out; however, every artist brought something worthwhile.

As a side note, Cakes da Killa’s “Hot Fuck No Love” appearance may be one of the most sexually graphic verses since Gangsta Boo rapped on Run the Jewels’ song “Love Again”. It fit absolutely brilliantly on the song for this very reason.

The only real downside to Wriggle is that it is short. This is completely reasonable though, as clipping. announced a full length album to come later this year via Sub Pop and Deathbomb Arc. Wriggle serves to hold fans over, and it does that job well. The twenty minutes of gritty, angry, hyper-sexual, and violent lyrics offers up plenty of content to digest in the meantime.

With that in mind, if you approach this expecting something overly substantial you might be disappointed. As a collection of songs leading up to an album release though, clipping. has remained as interesting as ever.

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Album Review: FLANCH – FLANCH

by Dustin

flanch

8.75/10

Enter FLANCH, Peter Timberlake and Ben Peterson’s music and visual project. The sixth release on Darling Records, FLANCH is an ambitious project to say the least. It took risks to create something that could stand alone as unique.

These risks were certainly worth taking.

Topically, FLANCH is rooted in stressing confusion brought as a byproduct of social changes; moreover, there is a strong emphasis on how this impacts the individual at a multitude of levels. Primarily the focus seems to be on the conflicting nature of losing ones religion after being deeply entrenched in its values. There’s also an apparent battle between the diminishing religiosity and an active lust for hedonistic pleasures (relative to the previously rooted religious values) in the individual.

No discretion, and no protection,
Just hold your breath and hope for death,
Before the soul’s possession.
(graace)

It should also be noted that this intersection of belief and non-belief is quite personal. Peter Timberlake, the main producer behind FLANCH, was a devout Christian for many years before entering his currently faithlessness. Though the vocals were provided by a plethora of artists, Timberlake’s message and vision was not lost.

To add to the thematic richness of this album, blurring lines between the offline and online worlds are also explored. FLANCH observes how the internet as a creation has completely changed the way we live and the way that interpersonal connections are made; however, there is also an awareness that it’s far easier to be allured by smoke and mirrors. When exploring these places it’s not in a negative tone, but rather caution towards something not fully understood.

I met you online, and I like your pictures,
But I don’t know if you’re a real person,
Don’t play with my heart anymore.
(tender)

While these thematic elements are quite expansive, they do not get lost within each other. FLANCH does an amazing job at finding balance by blending elements together. The end result was a spectacularly cohesive album. FLANCH is the type of album that will warrant more than a single listen to digest everything that is happening at once. Fortunately the music is absolutely addictive.

The production on FLANCH is really quite magnificently terrifying. The futuristic and experimental nature of the instrumentation leads to some beautifully off-kilter moments. Fitting of the topics at hand, FLANCH sounds audibly anxious, lost, and haunting. At times the production feels near other worldly, like the alien offspring of electropop and experimental glitch-hop.

The vocals, provided by an array of guest artists, were also quite interesting in the overall picture of this album. Vocal performances playing off of the religious themes felt suitably larger than life. At times the vocals stepped away from the human and were edited to feel genderless, synthetic, and mostly robotic. The sonic dichotomy was utilized creatively, with vocals placed together in a way that played amazingly well into the topic of on-and-offline worlds melding.

It should be mentioned that the singers and emcees on this project really helped make it special. It feels like their talent could be easily lost in everything else that was going on with this album, so it felt important to give them their credit as well. FLANCH seemed to be as much a collaborative project as it was a debut for FLANCH as an outfit.

FLANCH packs an insurmountably thick sounds into a short listen. The music is out of left field, wondrous, and emotional. The album is thematically engaging, and challenging enough to keep the listener coming back for more. Admittedly it might not click for everyone, nor does it seem like it’s supposed to; however, what FLANCH has delivered may hold up as one of the most creative, outside-the-box projects of the year.

Album Review: Blueprint – Vigilante Genesis

by Dustin

VG

8/10

How suitable that we’d close out May with a review of a new Blueprint project. Blueprint, of course, was our featured artist at the start of the month. The veteran underground emcee has teamed up with longtime collaborator Aesop Rock to deliver this brand new EP, Vigilante Genesis.

Though it weighs in at a modest nineteen minutes, Vigilante Genesis is anything but short on content. Rather than being a collection of assorted songs, this project is basically a miniature concept album. Taking elements from hip-hop culture and the murder mystery genre, Vigilante Genesis follows a story of a graffiti artist looking to bring justice upon those who mistakenly murdered a fellow tagger. Each track adds a piece to the tale, building a world much like an old-school story-based radio show.

When these greedy motherfuckers try to take what I love,
I write ‘greed’ in red ink, let it drip like blood,
Punk-ass security, they circle in shifts,
Seemed like five minutes but I time it at six,
And I done come too far to go out like a bitch,
So I chill behind a dumpster, hit my target, and dip.
(Vigilante Genesis)

Putting the story aside for a moment, Blueprint as a rapper shows up as sharp as ever. He felt very engaged in the story, providing a fitting first person narrative to match the tone of the story. As a general rule Blueprint is quite charismatic on the mic, and this is true for Vigilante Genesis. His writing was sharp, but at the same time never detracted from the concept just to complete a grander rhyme scheme. He’s straightforward in all the proper ways, which lead to a simple-to-follow listen.

Abstract has a longstanding place in hip-hop, but the route Blueprint took definitely worked most efficiently for this kind of concept.

He tearing up like “oh shit, I thought you was dead”,
Nah man, you and your mans killed the wrong kid,
I could kill you now for the sake of revenge,
Or you can come with me and tell the cops what you did.
(Ten Paces)

Aesop Rock provided the production for Vigilante Genesis, and those familiar with his instrumental work would be able to recognize this instantly. The beats feel like they could fit seamlessly within either of his last two solo releases. The production matches very well with Blueprints vocals, and maintains consistency throughout the entirety of the EP.

Aesop did a lovely job at setting the mood, and Blueprint knocked it out of the park with his slick story telling.

As a whole, this is a can’t-miss EP if you’re a fan of Blueprint’s work. Perhaps it’s a little bit of an adventure away from what he usually does as an artist, but he pulls it off well. General hip-hop fans will most likely enjoy this tape as well. The story is easy to understand, but interesting enough to hold the listeners interest; moreover, this is probably Blueprint’s most accessible tapes in terms of overall sound. Give it a listen, it may just be one of the top projects of 2016 by year’s end.

Album Review: Koi Child – Koi Child

by Dustin

koic

8.5/10

Australia may not come to mind when talking about hot spots of hip-hop, but perhaps that’s about to change. The land of Vegemite and Milo has produced one of hip-hop’s most exciting new acts, Koi Child. They aren’t your stereotypical hip-hop outfit though, in fact they’re far from it. Originally two separate acts (Kahikoi and Child’s Play) Koi Child is a seven man outfit consisting of emcee Cruz Patterson, saxophonists Christian Ruggerio and Jamie Newman, trombonist Sam Newman, drummer Blake Hart, bassist Yann Vissac, and Tom Kenny on the keys.

Though this self-titled release is the debut record by the group, they’ve been turning the heads of fans and musicians for the past couple years. More specifically, they caught the attention of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. After being invited to open for Tame Impala at select Australian shows, Koi Child also landed Parker as executive producer for this project.

Interestingly, as a side note, it was apparently recorded in some degree of isolation on an island… An island that had to be reached by packing all their gear by boat. It’s quite the unique backstory, to say the least.

The effort was worth it though, as the end product was quite special.

One of the big reasons this album is special is the instrumental work. Live instrumental work seems to be vastly underused in hip-hop; however, with Koi Child being stacked with talented instrumentalists, it can be found in abundance in their music. At times the ensemble wasn’t afraid to let the vocals take the back seat and have all the focus be on the instrumentation. These instances of pure instrumentation set a gorgeous atmosphere for the listener, and did not detract from the listening experience in any way.

That being said, Koi Child’s resident emcee certainly added something special to the album as well.

When Cruz Patterson was allowed to take center stage he often ran away with the show. Though his vocals were often drowned in an unconventional psychedelic reverb, Patterson’s lyrics and delivery were very reminiscent of old-school hip-hop (perhaps aided by throwback references to artists like MF DOOM and DJ Premier). He fit in seamlessly with the funky jazz sound provided by his band mates. It should also be noted that his energy on the mic was undeniable. Every bar was delivered with a captivating passion and excitement, which was clearly needed to keep up with complex instrumentation backing his rhymes.

It’s been a while since I looked into the future,
Write myself a letter, say “hey man, you used to,
Love MF DOOM and watch cartoons,
You’d be eating Frooty Loops in the afternoon”.
(Adventures for the Capsule)

To get too critical of this project would involve significant nitpicking, but perhaps it would be fair to say that the group played it too safe at times. It doesn’t take away from the album at any level, but it seemed as if Koi Child could have the ability to produce an even grander sound. Admittedly, this is less of a criticism and more a comment on what they could create going forward. The potential they displayed was incredible, and it’s easy to imagine them being capable of putting out something groundbreaking in the future.

With that being said, if this does happen to be a one-off effort from the group, there certainly will not be any disappointment either. The end product was beautiful, atmospheric, and worthy of high praise.

Album Review: Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down

by Dustin

mmrlif

7.5/10

Mr. Lif, one of the earliest members of the now defunct Definitive Jux record label, has been on somewhat of a hiatus… His last solo release came way back in 2009, but the time is finally right for his return to hip-hop. He has found a new home on the independent powerhouse Mello Music Group, which plays host to his fourth solo album, Don’t Look Down.

Lif has a reputation of quality, with all of his prior releases receiving critical acclaim. While many musicians lose a step when being away from their art for an extended period of time, Don’t Look Down continues this trend of excellence from Mr. Lif. The underground veteran has seamlessly picked up where he left off, delivering a pleasurable listen.

Don’t Look Down may not knock your socks off, but you will not walk away from it disappointed.

Well I’m sitting at my table now, hands crossed, blast off,
Thinking about some opportunities that I had passed on,
Hindsight is 20/20, thinking isn’t helping any,
Drinking will just serve to end me.
(Everyday We Pray)

Lif’s rapping was really enjoyable on this album. His writing is as strong as ever, and can be quite unique in structure. He’s not afraid to switch between poetic approaches, personal analysis, and even to delve into the more abstract. Don’t Look Down is the type of album that deserves multiple listens, if for no reason other than to digest the lyrics. As is the case with most emcees who came up in the same scene as Mr. Lif, his style can be pretty dense; moreover, Don’t Look Down has relatively quick pacing, so there will undoubtedly be things you miss on the first play-through.

That is to say, if the record doesn’t click with you on the first listen, don’t be afraid to give it another chance. It may only be 36 minutes long, but Mr. Lif packs an incredible amount of content into this running time.

I used to look up at night and see the sky,
Now I am the sky,
Now the planets I,
Used to use a telescope to see,
Are a part of me,
I’ve got Saturn in my arteries.
(Don’t Look Down)

Some of the production on this record is very reminiscent of the early 2000s Definitive Jux sound. “Whizdom” in particular has a wonderfully unorthodox instrumental. It manages to be head-nodding and addictive while simultaneously sounding like an ink-jet printer grinding out a thirty-two page university paper. That being said, Don’t Look Down does take on a more conventional approach at times as well. There is enough variation to keep the album sounding fresh throughout while not losing cohesion.

It should also be mentioned that every single instrumental compliments Mr. Lif’s vocals nicely. He clearly had a concrete direction in mind during beat selection, and it shows in the final product.

While Don’t Look Down may not exactly be comparable to I Phantom, it is a glimpse at a more mature Mr. Lif and should be approached with that in mind. It’s a very easy album to enjoy. Don’t Look Down is short, content dense, and while it’s certainly alternative, it still seems like an easy album for new listeners to jump into. For longtime fans, it will be a pleasure to hear new material after a long hiatus, especially since he delivers so well with this release.

Welcome back Mr. Lif.

Album Review: Flatbush Zombies – 3001: A Laced Odyssey

by Dustin

3001

7/10

This review is late. So very late. It would have felt wrong to ignore this album, though, so here we go…

3001: A Laced Odyssey is the long-time-coming debut studio album from New York based hip-hop trio Flatbush Zombies. This debut would come nearly three years after releasing a couple of mixtapes which stirred up quite a bit of buzz and helped establish a loyal fan following. Somewhat spectacularly, 3001: A Laced Odyssey sold 28,000 units in its first week. This may not sound like a lot, but for a self-released independent record it is wonderful.

You may now be asking yourself, what did this album do to be able to sell so well? And the answer is, lots of things! Most importantly the Zombies as a group established their sound on this record. While their mixtapes were well received, they were fairly chaotic. 3001: A Laced Odyssey is an incredibly cohesive album on all fronts. As a group, the three rappers build off of each other in more of a team-like fashion than fans have seen before. Even the production meshes beautifully from track to track.

This new found tightness is no doubt a product of the artistic evolution Zombie Juice, Erick the Architect, and Meechy Darko.

Zombie Juice perhaps shows the most signs of growth as an artist on 3001: A Laced Odyssey of the three group mates. Juice, at times, has been the victim of critical panning for not being able to keep up with his group-members in terms of flow or vocal presence. Fortunately, he definitely seemed to work hard at correcting these errors on this album. There are still times where Juice feels slightly weak on a track next to Meech and Erick, but the difference is not as noticeable here as it was on the Flashbush Zombies’ mixtapes.

Every day, live it like it’s it for me,
Black on black in time with my roots this is my ghetto symphony,
Shout out to my fam and my homies, we making history,
Never had a degree, but the streets made me a sicker breed.
(Zombie Juice – The Odyssey)

Erick the Architect displayed progression as both a producer and vocalist on this album. His instrumental work was solid, and probably his most most important contribution to the project as a whole. The beats are smooth, rely less on sampling, and fit together very cohesively. It was clear that he had direction when constructing the atmosphere for 3001: A Laced Odyssey. His writing still may not be the best of the group, but Erick has strengthened his vocal delivery which was a pleasant surprise.

Streets full of wolves so my appetite grew
I was hungry for this rap shit way back in high school
(Erick the Architect – A Spike Lee Joint)

Meechy Darko did about what you would expect if you’ve listened to other Flatbush Zombies’ music. His verses are punchy, gritty, and sinister sounding. He did a good job at scaling back his ultra-gruff delivery when needed, as 3001: A Laced Odyssey is a smoother sounding album than previous Zombies material. He didn’t show as much improvement as Erik or Juice, but this isn’t necessarily an issue as he was the Flatbush Zombies member with the strongest vocal presence prior to this release.

My only mission is to burn in hell and not in prison,
That’s why I’m spitting shit that make Jesus question religion,
This fan told me her parents said I sound like the devil,
To me I sound like a poor black kid from the ghetto.
(Meechy Darko – The Odyssey)

3001: A Laced Odyssey is not without its flaws. For example, Meechy Darko’s attempt at shock humor felt a little forced occasionally. That’s not to say that he should have avoided it entirely as subtle horrorcore influence has always been present in Meech’s writing, but there was the odd moment where these lines felt out of place relative to the song. As mentioned earlier, Zombie Juice also came up short on a few tracks; however, none of his underwhelming moments really stood out as terrible.

The absolute worst part of the album is probably the multiple minutes of fan messages on the last song. Admittedly it was cool for the first listen, but after that it felt like a nuisance. It would have been better suited as a whole separate outro track rather than part of a song, entirely for skipping purposes.

These things considered, 3001: A Laced Odyssey is an all-around solid debut album. For new fans, it’s a focused listen that serves as a wonderful entry point into the Flatbush Zombies’ catalog. Those who have followed the group since their mixtape material might be surprised by the more relaxed sound, but that hopefully will not deter them from listening. There are most definitely still areas that the group could improve, but 3001: A Laced Odyssey has laid a sturdy groundwork for future albums.

Album Review: Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival

by Dustin

HPFF

7.75/10

After kicking off the month of March by winning the incredibly prestigious Extraordinary Nobodies Artist of the Month nod, Open Mike Eagle looked to have a strong finish to the month with his brand new full length album. Having found a home for his unique brand of “art rap” on Mello Music Group, Mike set the bar high for himself with the one-two album-extended play punch of Dark Comedy and A Special Episode Of. You may be asking, “did he follow up these two projects with another exceptional album”? Well, if you had paid attention to the little score at the top you would already know that yes, yes he did.

The album is also titled Hella Personal Film Festival. So yeah, that’s a thing too.

Hella Personal Film Festival listens almost conceptually, with every track being a movie script to some aspect of Open Mike Eagle’s life. He’s always been a very relatable artist, yet this album manages to push that a little further. Though Mike keeps his absurd, witty, and sometimes sarcastic approach to analysis, it becomes obvious right from the opening track that this project will be at times more serious and introspective. There are moments on Hella Personal Film Festival that seem to put him at his most vulnerable, exposing scars and concerns to the listener.

I heard that when you in a fucked up space,
No one can hear you signal help,
I tried to set them straight,
And tell them I self medicate,
All they saw’s a glitchy video,
But then I never show my cards,
Instead I write for stealth,
Blah blah blah, I cry for help,
All this bellyaching’s just to say,
My belly’s hurting after all.
Admitting the Endorphin Addiction

At times it did feel like Mike had lost some of the vocal energy that he had in abundance on Dark Comedy, but the more somber approached fit the subject matter well. His delivery at times felt more similar to Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes than to his newer work, which was a bit surprising at first. Don’t take that to mean that he took a step backwards though, because that couldn’t be less true. Open Mike Eagle’s writing, emotional awareness, and presence on Hella Personal Film Festival has quite clearly progressed. It’s just more closely related to his older records in terms of overall sound.

The album only has two guest features, Aesop Rock and Hemlock Ernst (the rap personal of Future Islands’ Sam Herring) on “I Went Outside Today” and “Protectors of the Heat” respectively. This selective use of guests artists is fairly typical for an Open Mike Eagle album, and both managed to add something to the songs on which they were featured; however, Aesop probably had the more interesting verse of the two with his ever-so-confusing charm. Busdriver also makes a quick appearance at the end of “Dang is Invincible” where he says a grand total of nine or ten words. He’s not listed as a feature, but the voice is unmistakable.

Gotta admit it’s hard to feel good without being narcissistic,
Did the whole tour and didn’t get a parking ticket,
Looked in my heart and there wasn’t no darkness in it,
Feel awesome dude, found some wind to throw caution to!
Dang is Invincible

Production also really has to be discussed for this album as it was a collaborative effort with UK based music producer Paul White. White is perhaps most well known for his work with Danny Brown will on both XXX and Old. He has also provided production for the likes of Homeboy Sandman and Guilty Simpson. As far as the instrumentation on this album, he did a wonderful job at providing beats which compliment Open Mike Eagle’s voice. The sound is somewhat more conventional that most of Mike’s discography, but in this case that is certainly not a bad thing. There is not a single instrumental on Hella Personal Film Festival which feels out of place. They flow into each other very nicely, building a cohesive atmosphere throughout.

If you were looking for powerful booming production though, you wont find it here. It would be kind of questionable to be looking for bangers on Open Mike Eagle album in general because that’s not really his style, but hey, it was worth a mention.

Living from check to check, I keep checking,
Incoming call, directly reject it,
If you want to talk, suggest you leave message,
I check, check, check like every three seconds,
I’m recording right now and I’m checking between takes,
Every notification that my phone machine makes,
I put it down whenever, but it’s never a clean break,
I should get a heavy phone and pretend it’s a free weight.
Check to Check

Basically, if you are a fan of Open Mike Eagle’s previous work it’s not a stretch to say that you’ll enjoy what Hella Personal Film Festival has to offer. It might not be the best jumping off point for a new listener, as it is surprisingly more dense than an album like Dark Comedy (which is probably the easiest album in Mike’s discography to jump into in terms of lyrics and overall sound). If you’re looking for an record that takes multiple listens to fully digest, but still offers some comedic relief, then Hella Personal Film Festival may just fit your taste perfectly.

Just be sure to give it more than a single spin (you’ll want to anyway).