Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 2/27/11

Another month, another slew of dope hip hop releases. The first two were real stand-outs to me. Strong early nominees for the top ten of 2011, actually:

1) Sims "Bad Time Zoo" (Doomtree)

I've said it once and I'll say it again: Doomtree is the only group that I always anticipate hearing from and that I have yet to be disappointed by. Much like Dessa's "Badly Broken Code" from last year, my anticipation for "Bad Time Zoo" has been boiling for years, to the point where the album couldn't possibly live up to my lofty expectations. Yet somehow, it did. The years of work that Sims and Lazerbeak spent honing and perfecting this masterpiece really paid off, as everything about it screams "lavabanger." On the rapping front, Sims has progressed a huge amount since his "Lights Out Paris" days, with a more daring approach to rhyming and a new soulful edge to his vocals and delivery. The entire album is exceptionally well-written, touching upon social and political commentary in a way that's easy to relate to. Sims taps into the ways that people live and interact through his keen observations and personal narratives, and the animal imagery that he strings throughout the album is smart without ever seeming esoteric. On the beat tip, Lazerbeak delivers some of his strongest productions to date for Sims to flow over. From the dark opening jungle hymns of "Future Shock" to the epic blaring guitars of "In My Sleep," every beat in this body work will have you banging your head over how dope it is. Just listen to the track "Radio Opaque" below and tell me that isn't a massive beat... old-school El-P fans, eat your heart out! Bottom line: "Bad Time Zoo" is pretty much essential listening.

2) Void Pedal "Omni-Colour" (Fieldwerk)

This talented Chicago producer really delivers on the promise of his free self-titled EP and emerges with one of the stronger instrumental hip hop releases in recent memory. Void Pedal's carefully crafted layers of electronic keys and basslines really evoke a wide range of emotions over the course of the album and his sound has its own quirky flair to it. Much like the albums that Teebs and The Opus produced last year, this is top tier headphone listening that is meant to be heard front to back in all its glorious detail. "Omni-Colour" has a very unified sound as a body of work, but is not without its stand-out moments either - the bouncy bassline and waving electro effects of "Parachute" and the menacing bleeping progression of "Choke You" come to mind. But my favorite track on "Omni-Colour" is definitely "Baldwin," a song with such mysterious grandeur and emotional chords that I practically flew the first time I heard it. Fans of older RJD2, the current LA beat scene, or Dark Time Sunshine's producer Zavala will likely be digging this album hard. Hear "Looking Glass" below:

Void Pedal - Looking Glass by fieldwerk

3) Awol One & Factor "The Landmark" (Fake Four)

While not nearly as good as the two albums listed above and not the best work by either Factor or Awol One, "The Landmark" is never the less a damn interesting album worthy of at least a couple of spins. The album is strange above everything else, taking Awol's moan-singing style to the next degree and ultimately feeling more similar to Factor's indie pop project Common Grackle than any of Awol's previous albums. At it's heights, the album really does achieve a completely unique and special sound. "People on Drugs" pairs a gorgeous psychedelic stoner beat with Awol's groaning club meditations to perfection, and "Never Gonna Take Us Out" provides a needed boost of energy with Awol's raps and Ceschi's hook. Still, there a couple of generic beats and a few songs where Awol's vocal direction doesn't really work that well, leaving this experimental album a mixed bag. It was impossible for me not to include it in this listing after seeing Awol One and Ceschi's stellar show at Elbo Room though, anyone who has the opportunity to see them live on tour should get on that right away! My favorite song from the album below:

There were a couple of other interesting albums that came out this month, such as Enemy Entropist's "Never...Go...Gentle" and Murs & Terrace Martin's "Melrose," though I have yet to hear more than a leak of the latter. February left us with a couple of gems for sure.

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