Thursday, February 2, 2012

January 2K12 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 2/2/12

Still haven't had a chance to post my "Best of 2011" shit, but figure I'll fall behind if 2012's releases ain't covered on a monthly basis. One month in, and we've already got some crazy great albums on our hands.

1) Archetype - "Red Wedding" (Dekagon Records)

My vote for the strongest release of January 2012 goes to the Lawrence hip hop group Archetype, who have pretty much delivered their masterpiece with "Red Wedding." This third and final installment from rapper ID and producer Nezbeat finds them operating at the pinnacle of their respective abilities, resulting in an album that greatly exceeds all sorts of expectations. When Archetype's sophomore album "Bleed for Them" dropped in 2007, I remember liking Nezbeat's rapping more than ID's, so I'm pretty shocked to hear how great ID sounds on this new one. He handles the entirety of the rapping here save for a few background vocals, and his raps are melodic and perceptive in a way that "Bleed for Them" only hinted at, with terrific hooks and dope concepts strung together through interesting lyrics that evoke images of failed weddings and abandoned chapels. ID's rapping also works better on its own thanks to the incredible dark psychedelic vibes that Nezbeat provides in the beat department, with a grittier and more mature atmosphere that makes this the best produced Archetype album by far. Beautiful live drumming and guitar work is seamlessly fused together with sampling for a gorgeous musical backdrop that offers up some of the finest hip hop beats you'll be hearing in a minute. Plenty of stand-out songs, with some of my favorites including the hopeful horns and driving flutes of "All In," the nuanced evolving guitars and spooky samples of "Look Away," the colorful keys and layered voices of "Winding Mind," and the ill lyrics and catchy refrain of the title track. In the end, the only thing I don't like about "Red Wedding" is that this is apparently the last Archetype album, as ID and Nezbeat are now pursuing different music careers in different genres. Not a bad note to go out on though! You can stream the song "Dance of the Dead" from the album below:

2) Bleubird - "Cannonball!!!" (Fake Four Inc.)

As if Archetype's album weren't dope enough, a close contender for the best release of January 2012 is Bleubird's long-delayed third solo album "Cannonball!!!," which has finally been served up to us courtesy of the kind folks over at Fake Four Inc. I've been listening to Bleubird's music here and there for years and grew to appreciate him more after seeing him play in his RV Van in San Francisco last year, so naturally my hopes were running high for this release. Expectations grew higher still when I learned that Astronautalis and Radical Face were handling the production for this one, and somehow the project managed to deliver on all of its promises. "Cannonball!!!" sounds nothing like any of Bleubird's previous releases, and has a quiet yet epic indie pop vibe to it that finds everyone pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and delivering something brilliant in the process. Granted, a lot of what makes Bleubird's music so great is still present here, it's just been given a new snakebite-driven makeover from Astronautalis and is sounding fresher than ever. Crazy creative concepts and lyrics, including a party track about the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico and a song detailing abandoned buildings in different parts of the world, plus plenty of passionate rapping with daring vocal approaches. Bleubird even parodies a Louvin Brothers song and flips it into an amoral Christian folk diddy smack dab in the middle of the album! Truly creative stuff, awesome all around. Check out his video for the song "Pimp Hand" off the album, which was shot on beautiful Super 8 film:

3) Lazerbeak - "Lava Bangers" (Doomtree)

Lazerbeak's latest instrumental offering is not quite on par with the other two releases I listed this month, but it's still a super high quality album of beats from one of the best producers in modern hip hop. "Lava Bangers" follows the J Dilla "Donuts" formula of stringing together a gang of unreleased banging beats and mixing them in a way that makes the project feel like a cohesive whole. Thanks to the expert mixing skills of DJ Plain Ole Bill and the consistent heatery of Lazerbeak's production, this formula works quite well. There are some serious bangers on here like "Mighty Jungle," "Bully," "Xylophone" and "Lift Every Voice," and it's easy to play this one front to back. It's not one of the more essential releases of the Doomtree catalog, but it is bound to bring a smile to the face of many a picky beat snob. Check out the song "Smash Hit" below for a little taste of the 20 beats on display here:

Lazerbeak "Smash Hit" by doomtree

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