Saturday, August 10, 2013

Synesthia Vs... Synesthia

In 2001, Buck 65 released his last indie album before signing to Warner Bros - Synesthia on Endemik Music. Then when Warner put out his next album (Square), they re-issued the bulk of his back catalog at the same time... After all, you couldn't expect the wide, mainstream audiences this now major label artist was getting exposed to to seek out old homemade cassette tapes from Point Blank Catalogs to fill their collections. And when all these albums were re-released, they were given new cover art and retroactively decreed to all be parts of a series called Language Arts, parts 1-5. But this last album got a lot more than a new cover.

If you have the original Synesthia, the first thing you'll notice is that it's another in Buck 65's many "mixtape" albums, meaning it was released as one giant CD track. The next thing you'll notice is that this album is pretty short. Remember how Vertex and Weirdo Magnet had to be shorted for their CD releases, because the original cassette (or dual cassettes in the case of Weirdo) versions were too long to fit onto a single CD? This album has the opposite problem; if it were released on cassette, it would've only been able to fill up one side. And finally, the third thing you'd notice (that's right - you'd only notice three things. Three things I say!) is that, while this series is known for being 100% self-made by Buck - all the rhymes, all the vocals, all the cuts and all the production were by him - the credits here tell us that there is "additional production" by Grey Matter on this album. Unfortunately, the liner notes don't get any more specific, so we don't know exactly what he did here.

Anyway, it was easily my least favorite Buck album when it came out. Like past Language Arts albums, a lot of this album is instrumental, and I think the balance is even a bit heavier on the instrumental stuff this time. So on an album that's already just slightly over half an hour long, that means there's really not a lot of rap music to be had on here. Then, a couple of the songs feel sort of half-assed or gimmicky... One song where he rhymes little narrative couplets followed a long dramatic pausr will really try your patience. And the last song is just another remix of "The Centaur," which had already been released and remixed several times by 2001. And this is a Drum and Bass remix, so ugh. I just wind up turning this album off a couple minutes earlier.

Still, this album has its moments. Some of the instrumental parts are engaging, there's a fun track where he rhymes over a Fat Boys sample and even attempts a little human beatboxing. There's a song about growing up as a Kiss fan that I don't particularly enjoy, but it's interesting lyrically. And there's one song near the end which is definitely a top shelf cut to stand up with the best of his material.

However, I'm guessing that wasn't enough for the Warner Brothers. Because they had him totally retool this CD. Almost all of the instrumental stuff has been removed, and this CD is no longer one giant track, but a properly segmented CD broken into seventeen distinct (and now titled) songs, with a more full-length feeling running time of just over 45 minutes. Apparently one of the reasons for the changes was due to sample clearance, too; so even the songs that carry over from the 2001 version are different than the ones this 2002 version. The liner notes now say "all songs made by Buck 65 (rush job)," so I guess Grey Matter's work is out, too (though he is thanked).

So this album is definitely superior There's lots of good, new stuff. Yeah, the annoying dramatic pause song and the drum & bass version of "Centaur" are still here; so it's not perfect. But mostly all the new songs are better than all the old ones. An anti-smoking song called "Toxic Constituents" is surprisingly fresh and "Grumpy" is a lot of fun. And even the few instrumental segments on this version are tighter and more compelling. I might even go so far as to say that this new version is actually an overall stronger album than most of the other Language Arts entries.

Some of the remixes are just subtle changes (perhaps to recreate a song with sample clearance issues as closely as possible), so there's really very little reason to prefer the Endemik version. The only thing I find myself missing is the Fat Boys-inspired cut. it is on the remake (called "Hens"); but musically, it's a completely different animal, with all different samples, a different tone, and no beatboxing. So if you're a completist, there's that, and a bunch of exclusive instrumentals. And if you're a collector, it's a nice little rarity (online sources seem to agree that the Endemik version was limited to 1000 copies; but I don't remember it being marketed that way at the time), that's substantially different enough - you don't feel like you're buying essentially the same material twice. Despite having a lot of stuff still in common, they are pretty different listening experiences. But if you're just looking to score one version and wondering what's best... or, if you're in the situation I was that inspired me to write this post in the ifrst place: you own both and are just wondering which is the preferable and/or definitive version to listen to an enjoy. Then the answer is easy, 2002 Warner Bros edition all the way.

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