Clams Casino – Instrumentals

My friend Julian (of King Hamburger Pimp and the Sundance Kid over on our sister site Dead Curious) makes fun of me because I get a lot of enjoyment out of ridiculous rappers. I genuinely like Gucci Mane. There’s something about a musician who’s just enjoying their performance that I find magnetic. That’s the reason that I first started listening to Lil B. Lil B probably has the least amount of genuine rapping talent and ability of anyone making money in hip hop but it’s plain to see that he’s enjoying himself. Listening to Lil B mixtapes became one of those addictions that I had trouble understanding until I realized that it was the production that I loved, not the Based God himself.

I researched things and found that every Lil B song that I loved was produced by the same guy, Clams Casino. Clams released this album of instrumentals in early March, consisting of tracks he had produced for Lil B, Main Attrakionz, Soulja Boy and other rappers who really need production to carry them. Stylistically, his production lays layers of ethereal synths over Houston Screw-type drum breaks with a heavy dose of echo. It is the absolute antithesis of the angry and aggressive sounds that accompany a rapper like Waka Flocka Flame or Jim Jones. Clams Casino songs are the type of thing you would want to listen to while smoking a blunt with your girlfriend on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Drake – Take Care

Drake cockily begins the first track of his sophomore album with the boast, “I think I killed everybody in the game last year, man; Fuck it, I was on though.” Drake was unquestionably “on” during 2011. One of the benefits of having a 45-minute commute to work in suburban Virginia is that I have a lot of time to listen to the radio. On one commute home during August, I heard guest spots by Drake on seven different songs in one stretch. In less than 30 minutes.

Take Care proved that Drake isn’t a one-dimensional Top 40 rapper. He displayed previously unseen depths of songwriting on tracks like “Marvin’s Room” and “Look What You’ve Done.” Crooning one minute, staccato rhyming the next, he’s creating a rap/R&B hybrid that’s infectious and somehow relatable even as he describes spending $50,000 on vacations for his entourage and making reservations for 20 at a restaurant. Drake is making R&B cool again. He is able to recreate the particular flavor of the pain of unrequited love and relationships and is able to sonically transmit the buzzing joy of success.

The Weeknd – House of Balloons

The enigmatic Abel Tesfaye, better know as The Weeknd, is the other figure leading the R&B renaissance. But while Drake captures the feeling of being in a club VIP at 1AM, on top of the world, The Weeknd captures the feeling of being in at an apartment at 4AM, ghoulishly drunk and high, with a Go-Go dancer from the club VIP that is only interested in you because you have an AMEX Black card. Tessfaye’s soaring falsetto weaves tales of intoxicated late-night rendezvous over dark but polished EDM-influenced production from Doc Kinney, Zodiac and Illangelo. It is easily the most cohesive musical package that I’ve listened to all year.

Since the release of House of Balloons, The Weeknd has been on a tear, contributing writing credits to no less than five songs on Take Care, producing solicited remixes for both Lady Gaga and Florence & The Machine, and landing on the shortlist for the Polaris Music Prize. Even in success, however, Tesfaye remains an elusive figure. He rarely does interviews and has only performed publicly on three occasions, relying mostly on his tumblr account to interact with his fans. The mystery surrounding The Weeknd was a factor in the success of House of Balloons; hopefully he can maintain the mystique.

Domo Genesis – Under the Influence

Domo Genesis suffers from the fact that he is a member of a music collective that is led by one of the most polarizing figures in music. As a member of L.A.-based Odd Future, Domo is often overshadowed by the antics of Tyler, the Creator. He doesn’t eat cockroaches in his videos (see Tyler’s “Yonkers”) and he doesn’t use the word “faggot” to punctuate every one of his verses (see Tyler’s album Bastard). What he does do, simply and with natural talent, is rap. With Earl Sweatshirt committed to reform school in American Samoa, Domo Genesis is the best rapper in Odd Future. Lacking the forced agression of Tyler and much more polished than Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis delivers his relaxed weed-sprinkled lines with comfort and poise.

I may be cheating here because Under The Influence is more of a mixtape then an album as only two of the tracks contain original production; most of his time is spent rapping over beats from Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Kid Cudi, Curren$y and even Mobb Deep. This, however, is a good thing. Odd Future doesn’t possess a an in-house producer that has developed any sort of individual style, relying mostly on amateurish beats put together with elements that sound like they haven’t been modified from their original Fruity Loops settings. Under The Influence indicates that Domo would benefit from outside production tailored his personal style. It seems like his friends are stifling his ability to soar.

Canyons – Keep Your Dreams

Describing Canyons’s sound is extremely difficult; The Fader made a pretty good effort when they called it “colors set to music” but that doesn’t quite catch the diversity of songs on the album. Tracks like “And We Dance,” a seven-minute opus of deliberately-developing atmospheric swirling synths and a crazy saxophone sample, and “Blue Snakes,” a modern interpretation of classic Detroit techno, sandwich “When I See You Again,” a song that wouldn’t be too out of place on a late 80s Paul Simon record. There are so many genres and influences at play that it would seem that such music would be confusing and discordant. Canyons keeps things under control by maintaining only one influence/genre per track, preventing the individual songs on Keep Your Dreams from becoming mushy, ill-defined messes.

Even with this schizophrenic approach, Keep Your Dreams is still a complete and unified album. Canyons maintains the same “feel” throughout. All of the songs are spiritually related, even though one might be described as futuristic ambient trance and one as late 70s disco rock. This is dance music for people who wish dubstep was never created and wish that club music had frozen in time in 1992.