The Unseen

Ahh, I haven’t published anything in a while, but I felt compelled to finish this review, of all things – not my best of 2016, not 1989, not OK Computer or James Blake, but this. I’ve been stressing too much, really, worried about writing the absolute best thing every time and only posting my best. Well, you know what? I’m not gonna overthink this one, mostly because it’s really hard to overthink The Unseen in the first place. You’ll know exactly what you’re in for from the moment the first proper track kicks off: distant, fuzzy keyboards, a boom-bap break, and a chilled-out, lazily confident voice leading you along into his world of cartoonish violence, good weed, and bitches. Yes, it’s that kind of record – trying to make some detailed analysis of a Madlib – erm, Quasimoto – album is as futile as trying to decode the ramblings of a real-life stoner. So just relax. After all, it’s easy to lose yourself in these sounds; the aforementioned fuzzy keys, the distorted, often heavy basslines, the crisp drums, the hilarious samples (looking at you, “Welcome To Violence.”) The record’s got a very specific vibe to it, one that’s easier to feel than to explain, but if you enjoy recreational drugs, spending time with a few really good friends, and going out on hot summer nights, I think you’ll find as much to love about the record as I have in the years since I first heard it. That’s especially if you enjoy that ultra-dorky stoner comedy that seems to catch a lot of flack for being pretty stupid. And make no mistake, The Unseen is a dumb album on the surface, because it makes its own goofy world so hyper-realized that you can’t not notice the pointless in-jokes, the mindless pot references, the banal wordplay, and the lack of any morals whatsoever… but fuck me, it’s all so goddamn funny. “The police pullin’ us over for no reason / Searchin’ the car… [Comedic Pause]… like it’s nigga huntin’ season!” “I walk around the street, passin’ out poisoned apples (OH SHIT HE’S DEAD!)” the entire “Loop Digga” skit; “There’s plenty more that I could name but ya’ll won’t put them to use” after listing dozens of popular jazz artists; the number section in “Microphone Mathematics;” the list goes on. And lest you leave this review thinking I’m just some idiot who enjoys pot jokes and general stupidity, think again: the beats are fucking masterful, just some of the greatest production Madlib ever put to tape. Consider the title track; an airy synth line, set ominously against an off-putting vocal sample and a click-clack drum loop, and driven at a nice pace by a casual, almost too-leisurely bassline. It’s all a little unsettling, truth be told, but in such a distant and nonthreatening way that by the time the guitar starts strumming a few chords, you’re already lost in the groove of it. It’s engaging, detailed jazzy hip-hop disguised as dumb stoner rap. That’s not to say this is a difficult listen, though, or even a compelling one; each of the 24 tracks goes down easy (except maybe the clear throwaway “Come On Feet,” which is too formless to even count as a song), and at only an hour in length, finishing it shouldn’t be a challenge at all. Not every track’s a winner, as I’ve mentioned: not a fan of “Put A Curse On You” and “Goodmorning Sunshine,” which both try their best to ride on goofy samples but aren’t supported by any of the stronger production on the album; “Phony Game” is basically half a song, with the other half being a sorta annoying sample and some studio sounds; and I suppose in a transition to a more positive note, I should mention that while “Bluffin’s” piano is pretty sweet, it doesn’t really sustain interest over the whole track. My favorite song here, besides the obvious picks of “Bad Character” or “Loop Digga,” is “Astro Travellin,” which has a beat similar to the title track’s, but rides much heavier on the creepy atmosphere – note the dissonant keyboards and the cheery mantra of “get high…” Elsewhere, “Axe Puzzles” sustains interest solely on its myriad of Miles Davis references and a killer fucking bassline, while “Low Class Conspiracy” tells the tale of our heroes being accosted by racist cops and getting off scot-free. And while you’re listening look out for some of the more obscure musical details, even in the weaker or more marginal tracks – Madlib’s a master of spinning these dreamy, warm instrumentals that crackle and thrum with this really gorgeous late-night-alone feeling to it. Authentic jazz rap.

A-

 

 

 

 

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