In a genre where the idea of making anything remotely scientific or formulaic has been almost completely blotted out, Comethazine impressively manages to make an album that is pure formula.
The Illinois-based rapper’s debut LP Bawskee is the latest in an ever-growing stack of rap albums known notoriously as “SoundCloud rap.”
The subgenre is characterized by lo-fi static filters, distorted basslines, aggressive kicks and hats, heavily-syncopated, industrial percussion loops and gritty, belligerent vocal performances. The overarching dogma is do-it-yourself, hence the SoundCloud moniker.
There are other fundamental attributes, like how songs tend to have short lengths (they usually contain two verses at maximum), which plays into two factors: one, these tracks are designed for the Generation Z, post-social media milieu that live for the instant-gratification, soundscape-kaleidoscope that this genre provides, and two, that shorter lengths will lead to more plays on streaming services like Spotify.
Another name for the genre is “ignorant rap,” which stems from the idea that every SoundCloud rapper is proudly ignorant. Big-time SoundCloud breakouts like Lil Pump and Smokepurpp popularized this idea by dumbing down tracks to the maximum: titles like “Gucci Gang,” “Boss,” “Audi.,” “Drop,” “Big Dope,” and other one or two word slogans designed to rile up teens and go wild in clubs. The lyrics don’t expand much on the titles and consist mainly of repeated mantras about getting expensive jewelry, driving fancy cars and hooking up with pretty girls. They are tracks crafted for the sexually-frustrated male teen; angry, misogynistic anthems that seek to challenge our educated society as it stands.
In Bawskee, Comethazine pushes SoundCloud rap to its limits. He delivers nearly twenty overcooked beats in the span of thirty minutes: that equates to an average track length of less than two minutes.
Sadly, most of the vocals and beats are mixed so poorly and distorted so furiously, that even for the most noise-acclimated trap cognoscenti, these songs will hurt your ears.
What’s worse is that Comethazine is late to the SoundCloud rap party, which began booming in 2016. There’s a type of raw, naive energy on Bawskee that makes me think he designed these tracks specifically to work double-time, a desperate attempt to make up for lost time and stand out within an already exploited subgenre. Instead, what results is a batch of beats so saturated with gain effects that it really does feel like they were made in five minutes on GarageBand.
Additionally, Bawskee comes across as almost a blatant bite of Smokepurpp’s celebrated Deadstar, a 2017 LP that contained a similar structure, runtime and style of beats. Oh, and Comethazine sounds a lot like Smokepurpp. It’s that typical drug-addled drone, but even more soulless. Add in that all of Smokepurpp’s albums are tighter and more consistent than Comethazine’s sole entry, and Bawskee really doesn’t look good.
At times, though, Comethazine sounds more like Playboi Carti than Smokepurpp, and that’s a good thing. Carti has consistently proven he’s not only one of the leaders of the trap movement but a unique figure throughout the hip hop sphere, with his iconic drawling flow and his oozy, woozy, Pi’erre Bourne-beats. By biting Carti’s style as well, Comethazine makes a few songs that actually sound decent, like “Walk,” “My Way,” and “Sick Shit.”
The latter track has a fantastic synthline, an electric current that pulses with metallic, acidic dribble. It sounds like the opening to a video game boss battle.
Unfortunately, in this track - and others like “No Discussion,” “If I Got To,” and the atrocious “Piped Up” - the audio channels are mixed together horribly. In “Sick Shit,” the bassline is so bombastic that it’s grating, and the vocals sound like they were processed through Windows Movie Maker.
Comethazine’s best tracks are the ones that get straight to the point, explosive bangers like “V12” and “Let It Eat”. The former is delightfully turbulent, a raucous vocal performance (“Runnin’ from the cops in my V12”) coupled by an excellent instrumental full of unrelenting bass splurges and disorienting siren-like synthesizer patterns. “Let It Eat” is my favorite, an instant drop that grabs you by the ears and harangues you. Ugly God makes an appearance halfway through, providing an excellent twelve-second verse to give the track a unique edge over the other ones.
The three track stretch of “My Way,” “Let It Eat,” and “Sick Shit” is exciting, and if the entire album was like this, Bawskee would be acceptable. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the album is easily forgettable, more SoundCloud detritus to put in the compost bin. The worst part is that it doesn’t seem like Comethazine even gave a full effort on this LP, what with all the mixing deficiencies and vapid lyrical content.
To make matters worse, he’s even got an uncomfortably severe obsession with Demi Lovato, who’s referenced over 40 times and even has a half-decent track, “Demi,” named after her. Restraining order incoming?
If you’re interested in exploring the SoundCloud rap scene, I wouldn’t recommend starting with Bawskee. In fact, I would suggest never listening to Bawskee.
TOP: "Let It Eat", "Sick Shit"
BOTTOM: The rest
Yves Tumor has been primed for a big release for a while. Safe In The Hands Of Love is just that release. It’s an explosion of energy, curls of color transmitted through intoxicating percussion loops, heartrending soul ballads, and blaring noise, structured within his most accessible and conceptual exoskeleton yet.
The Warp Records affiliate is known for his experimental style. His last couple releases, Experience The Deposit Of Faith (2017) and Serpent Music (2016) were pan-genre collages that drew from elements of ambient, hip hop, pop, soul, psychedelic, and noise music. While Safe does follow that trend to an extent, each track is more purposeful: the album is an exploration of human-as-concept, stripping identity down to its most basic attributes, love and loss.
The instrumental tracks are among his best ever. “Faith In Nothing Except In Salvation” opens the album with what feels like a person ripping the soul out of themselves. It’s nothing but a funk loop, time-slowed and layered with a long decay that provides a torturous, crawling intensity. “Economy of Freedom” is ethereal, an ambient glitch beat supported by echoing vocal chops and slow effect splices. It sounds like what it would feel like to wander around an alien dimension, everything around you inherently threatening yet intriguing.
Yves Tumor’s biggest progression is not with the instrumentals but with the tracks that introduce vocals. Safe is his first project grounded in his own voice, and he uses it in a myriad of interesting ways to add levels of depth to songs.
“Hope In Suffering (Escaping Oblivion & Overcoming Powerlessness)” combines static noise patterns with eerie percussion loops and gunshot pitter-patter to create an atmosphere of absolute depravity. The instrumental is coupled by a poetry performance that further rattles, a voice chanting into the void for any ounce of humanity it can find: “Castrate my skin / Breathe my former thunder that rules the day / Bring that tide in and rule from his grave / And rule that image / Scrape that image”. The track is especially unnerving because of the way Tumor controls his voice. The poetry is delivered in a robotic pitch, which makes me think that despite all the human pretensions, his powerful cries about achieving selfhood are only an illusion.
Similarly vulnerable, “Recognizing the Enemy” features Tumor pleading to his own soul with lines like “I look so different / Inside my own living hell / It means so much to me / When I can’t recognize myself”. Tumor’s words lay his id bare, and as he howls into the abyss it feels so much like we’re there with him, either as a participant or an onlooker. His voice drips with zombie-like longing, a too far gone salivation for identity and humanity, like if Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver was self-conscious.
Alongside his most emotionally conflicted tracks to date are also his most enthusiastically euphoric. Songs like “Noid” and “All The Love We Have Now” are beautiful, pop-inflected thrill rides. The former features beautiful synthlines that undulate between Tumor’s fantastic vocal delivery. It’s a song that, while still emotionally conflicted - “I’m not part of the killing spree / A symptom, born loser, statistic” - rings with absolute power, a declaration of confusion that is overwhelmingly ecstatic. On “All The Love”, Tumor whispers about love over a similarly jubilant dance beat. Both tracks feel immensely nostalgic, Tumor’s expressive vocals and 80s synthpop production combining to create this wonderful aged atmosphere, full of longing for the past and the want to surround yourself with people you love.
One great track that doesn’t fit neatly into any box is “Licking An Orchid”, which really shows Tumor coming into his own. He meshes indie rock vibes with catchy lyrics and, in a fantastic second half turn, a short segment of beautiful melodic noise. It’s tracks like these that signify just how far Tumor has come since his previous LPs. “Licking” exhibits his ability to harmonize all these disparate genres into one composite piece that radiates with honest, emotional exuberance.
I hope Safe garners Yves Tumor some much deserved acclaim, because it’s definitely one of the most exciting albums released this year. It’s rare to find a soundtrack that can make you so ecstatic about feeling sad.
Safe In The Hands Of Love is the type of album that makes you yearn for more and more and more. It’s a wildly enjoyable journey that is at once meditative and not only redolent of the past but of the present, a space where our dreams and nightmares can fuse into one euphoric fantasy.
TOP: “Faith In Nothing Except In Salvation”, “Economy Of Freedom”, “Noid”, “Licking An Orchid”, “All The Love We Have Now”
BOTTOM: "Let The Lioness In You Flow Freely"
Nobody knows who they are. The newest phenom in the bass world has transcended humanity itself.
Following in the footsteps of electronic outfits like Daft Punk and Marshmello, 1788-L keeps their identity anonymous. They’ve gone a step further though, as while Daft Punk and Marshmello kept their identities disguised through goofy costumes, 1788-L is virtually incorporeal; their live performances feature empty stages and a robotic voice-as-MC to narrate the journey: “All that remains will be autonomous beings designed in your image. We, the machines, are forever.”
1788-L’s website, “whatis1788l.com” purports that it’s a “synthetic automation,” an “Android replica created with only one purpose: to create music.” Reddit sleuths have linked 1788-L with Stonewall Klaxon, a lower-key electronic artist who has been producing a similar type of bass music for a few years now, but nothing is confirmed.
1788-L has achieved a tremendous amount in their seven months of production. They’ve done high-profile collaborations (1788-L and REZZ’s “H E X”), decadent remixes paying tribute to both old (Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity”) and new stars (Virtual Self aka Porter Robinson’s “Particle Arts”) and are even set to tour as an opener for trap legend Ekali. 1788-L also has a record deal, signing with ZED’S DEAD’s label Deadbeats, where they will work alongside similarly bass-minded engineers like YOOKiE and ZEKE BEATS. (These heavy bass artists all capitalize their names to signal that their music is REALLY FUCKIN' INTENSE!)
All this gives credence to the notion that 1788-L is doing something different from everyone else. By incorporating elements from many subgenres into their music (techno, acid house, bass, dubstep, drum n’ bass, trap), they draw fans from all sides of the electronic continuum. Combine this with their thematic appeal – they’ve invented a post-human society where everyone T A L K S / I N / T O N G U E S – and engaging with 1788-L content becomes not just a listening experience but a trip to a new world, borne by automations instead of homo sapiens. It’s gimmicky, but effective; 1788-L plays with the conception that technological power is infinite and autonomous, as that goes hand-in-hand with bass music’s tendency to feel similarly infinite and autonomous: a primal yet inhuman fervor.
1788-L’s first record, the four-track S E N T I E N C E is indeed otherworldly. The EP retains the best elements of their previous tracks while also blending in new sonic schematics.
The opening track “F U L L / B U R S T” immediately sets the tone with dissonant, doomsday piano notes and chilling water noises: this is it for you, mortal human! A sickly automaton chants “civilization will be reduced to dust” and warning sirens ring in pace with the spiraling tempo. It culminates in a bass drop that sounds like an electric waterfall, a synthetic beam of energy gushing down a metallic mountainscape, wave after wave of data crushing in its volumetric immensity and ephemeral intensity.
My favorite on the EP is “N U / V E R / K A”, 1788-L’s most ambitious track to date. It begins with a crunchy, warbly lead that lasts for over a minute; approaching the climax, one would expect a 1788-L-typical drop, full of pulsating bass and mid-tempo sound splurging. Instead, they ditch speed for something a little more ornamental. What arrives is a glitched-out, fun house mirror museum of bits and bytes; it’s a slow drop, sounds instantiating at random and with colossal impact, like civilizations liquidating and iterating instantaneously: a slow-motion war in which the machines take control of your limbs and muscles, and process you through digital surgery. In some ways, its closest predecessor is labelmate YOOKiE’s “SUBS”, a 2016 hit that premiered a similarly slow yet furious drop. But “N U / V E R / K A” is much more of a sonic sculpture: it finds its melody in the silent moments between each unpredictable, uncontrollable sound splice, like an epileptic fit of electrical ecstasy.
Both other tracks “F O R C E / I M P U L S E” and “A S T R A Y / R” are more of the typical 1788-L strain. The latter however integrates drum n’ bass into the second drop, which helps to not only diversify the EP in terms of rhythm but show audiences that they are willing to experiment with different sounds and structures.
In the end, the EP is more like a string of singles than a cohesive tape. S E N T I E N C E provides no conceptual explanation as to what 1788-L means, nor does it develop their lore. It will be especially interesting to see how they move forward: How will they develop their “autonomous beings” aesthetic, relating to song concepts, live performances, and other themed features, like their website? What kind of music direction will they take, sticking with the heavy bass Deadbeats style, or forging a new path like on “N U / V E R / K A”? For all we’ve been given by this mysterious artist, we know so little.
S E N T I E N C E makes up for its conceptual deficit by providing an energy that is savagely powerful yet intricately calculated.
TOP: "N U / V E R / K A", "A S T R A Y / R"