Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 2K12 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 2/29/12

Some amazing new releases in February. Here are a few of the major highlights:

1) Ecid - "Werewolf Hologram" (Fill in the Breaks)

Ecid's new album is not only his finest work to date, it's also one of the best pieces of music to emerge from any hip hop artist in recent months and is destined for a solid spot amongst my favorite albums of 2012. I've liked some of Ecid's music in the past, and his albums have tended to grow on me with repeated listens, but this new one is the first of his works that completely kicked my ass from the get-go and kept getting better from there. Even with its holographic motifs, everything about this album is solid as hell. For starters, Ecid stepped his rapping game up in a major way for this full length, with a more mature and confident delivery that works better with his voice and flow. The constant barrages of words found on previous albums have simmered down to something calmer and more devious, giving his verses more room to breath and allowing for a more diverse range of styles. Lyrics have always been one of Ecid's strong suites and nothing's changed in that regard, with top-notch writing covering topics like suicide ("Oh Well"), alien intelligence ("So Damn Einstein!"), frustated graff heads ("WOOLF") and the internet era ("The Future is Free"). Ecid also knows how to string words together in impressive ways, often crafting immaculate and unpredictable flows that shine on tracks like "Marching On" and "I Heart Gravity." Meanwhile, on the production side of things, Ecid delivers an incredible futuristic soundscape that conveys a variety of moods and establishes him as a producer to be reckoned with. The beats often start simple and are built into something very detailed and elaborate as the tracks progress, with sampled notes broken down into tiny fragments and new exciting twists around every corner. A simple and effective bassline suddenly explodes with beautiful layers of sampled guitars on "The Pursuit of Everything in Between," and the gradual layering of sounds on "Go High Lion" makes you feel like you're there in the studio with Ecid as he chooses every tiny note. The music has a sound reminiscent of El-P or Lazerbeak in its noisy and often futuristic qualities, but is more minimal in its approach and is distinctly Ecid's. A really enjoyable listen from start to finish that will likely convert you to the cause of lycanthropy. Watch the awesome video for the track "Back From Japan" below:

2) Lazerbeak & Edison "Kill Switch" (Fieldwerk)

Fieldwerk Records keeps picking the winners with this fourth installment of their split producer series, which once again draws from the A-list of indie hip hop's beatmaking talent to bring you some of the finest instrumental hip hop available today. This entry is their most exciting to date, boasting Doomtree's Lazerbeak on side A and San Francisco tech genius Edison on side B. Both of these fellows are phenomenal producers, and both of them do justice to their respective sides of the record. Lazerbeak's entry is peaceful and downtempo with bright and colorful flourishes, blending together elements of rock, electronic and pop music into a melting pot of hip hop production that feels emotionally charged. His tracks on this have a tremendous amount of depth that puts the "Lavabangers" beat tape he released in January to shame, standing out as a collection of fully fleshed-out instrumental songs. I would kill the switch to hear a full length album of stand alone Lazerbeak numbers like these! Edison, who puts on one of the best live instrumental hip hop shows I've seen, handles side B with a louder and more menacing approach that features lots of excellent manipulations of sound. Angry guitars duel it out with abrasive drums and eery chopped-up electronic sounds, all twisted and stuttered out of Edison's magic blinking button machine. This side is more unified in sound than Lazerbeak's side and feels like one extended song, though both sides offer something very unique and convey the personality of their respective producers. It also feels like these two belonged on different sides of the same record, as they compliment each other's styles here. Terrific stuff, stream one of Edison's songs "A Cure for the Case of the Wealthies" below:

3) Maxilla Blue "Volume 3" (Galapagos4)

The third self-titled group effort from this Des Moines trio shows off their straight-forward and effective brand of hip hop music well. The beauty of the group's music lies in it's simplicity, which is not to say that the production, MCing or DJing here are quite predictable. Aeon Grey's jazz and funk-laced production is very smooth and never feels too busy, which gives rapper Asphate Woodhavet room to breath and flex his fluid spoken word style flows. Add in some nice scratches from DJ Touchnice you get an album that feels very traditional in tone and gets its honest hip hop vibes across well. Lots of cool jams on here, with the dark street hustling vibes of "Retrogression" and the light hypnotic keyboards of "Lego Blocks" registering as personal favorites. Check out the extra smooth track "Perfect Mal-F" from the album below:

4) James Barrie "Sons of Mammon" (Los Feo Faces/Grimm Image)

Los Feo Faces are perhaps one of the most puzzling hip hop crews out there when it comes to business ethics, as they drop albums haphazardly with zero promotion and expect them to somehow register on people's radars. Stranger still is the fact that some of these projects are genuinely dope, including this new EP from Los Feo frontman James Barrie aka Nabahe. The "THANK YOUS" section of the liner notes of this album consists of the sentence "To all you haters, fuck you, fuck every one," which suggests that James Barrie ain't building any new bridges with this EP, but it's hard to hate on him when he's got a distinct voice and flow plus some interesting bugged out lyrics. James Barrie gathers a number of talented hip hop acquaintances to help out with this project, including the highly underrated Smoke of Oldominion, who does a terrific job producing the majority of the songs on this EP. Smoke's beats here are dark, minimal and very effective, with well-placed live instrumentation and even the occasional drum and bass breakdown to compliment the experimental styles of MCing. Open Mike Eagle, 2Mex, Xololanxinxo, K-the-I??? and Kosha Dillz all show up and drop verses worthy of their reputations, while newcomers C-Cost and James Vega kill it with their respective guest spots as well. The only MC who fails to deliver is Pigpen, who adds nothing to the otherwise terrific "Harp Music." "Sons of Mammon" is destined to be truly slept on, but is definitely worth digging up if you can find it. Stream "Verbal Spears Nephew's Posse Cut (Blood Eye)" featuring Everybody Knows, 2Mex, Xololanxinxo, K-the-I??? and James Vega below:

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