Friday, December 20, 2013

The Life and Times of Time

Remember Time? He's an MC from Denver... I reviewed his last album four years ago. Well, he's back with his next and third CD, Newstalgia on Dirty Laboratory Records. No autotune this time. But there's actually a lot to discuss on this one, so let's get stuck in.

Newstalgia is an autobiographical album. I mean, super autobiographical; it probably should've been titled Timestalgia. Each song is about his childhood, his family, etc. Consequently, how compelling you find the lyrics will depend a lot on how invested you are in Time's personal life. If you're a serious fan or know him personally, this digs deep enough to be some pretty riveting stuff, But as a casual listener, it started to wear thin pretty early and overall it felt too on the nose.

Like, take this quick bar: "The only things we know is drinkin' and fightin' and heartbreak. I was the one who started the brawl at Finnegan's Wake. I'm half English and half Irish; that's my first crime. It's also the reason I hate myself half the time." If you're feeling it... if you're like oh, it's so sincere and emotional, and yet the James Joyce reference shows it's intellectual at the same time.* Than this is the album for you. I'm going to keep discussing the pros and cons of this album; but you're probably going to decide in favor of this album on every issue I raise and I definitely recommend you take the time to track it down. But, if you're thinking more along the lines of cloying, pretentious, angsty, or you've just got the word "hipster" flashing across your brain in big, red letters, then you can stop reading here. Every moment and element of this album is going to rub you the wrong way, and you should stay well clear.

Not that every song is reaching for the artsy and profound. "8 Bit Memories" is a song about his childhood video games, "a joystick was the only thing I enjoyed holdin', because it let me save the world and keep my axe golden. I tried playin' Punch Out, 'till I found out you hit the band aid..." I mean, yeah, it's about a little bit more than just that... i.e. a child's limited outlook on the world. But at the end of the day, it's really just an excuse to play Catch All the References with the gamers in the audience, you know like "Pink Cookies In a Plastic Bag" or "Labels" meets Hot Karl's "Kerk Gybson." It's an intentionally - and not unwelcome - lighter moment.

He also opens it up a bit by bringing in a lot of collaborators. Almost every song features somebody even if a lot of 'em are just on the choruses, but almost all of them virtual unknowns. I did recognize a couple names, though, including producer Factor who has a track on here, Xiu Xiu who I just know from having done a song or two with Sole and Fake Four owner Ceschi, who's unfortunately now more famous for something completely unrelated to his music.

And the production has a very lush feel, featuring a lot of presumably live instrumentation (this might also account for some of the unknown collaborators). The self-produced "They Call Us the Irish," for example, has really heavy piano and horn running through it, that gives it almost a jazz fusion feel. This offers a really nice, warm energy that'll keep you listening to the entire record whether you're particularly feeling Time on the mic or not. It's clear that a lot of care went into this album, which you can't help but appreciate. On the other hand, there's no "this is my jam!" beat to really grab you like a lot of our simpler, sampled classics. There's no big single here, just a long, full album. Whether that's a plus or minus will just depend on your current relationship with music.

Look, I could nitpick this album all day. The hook on "Writer's Shot"... the preachy spoken word skit that I think is meant to be a homage to Common Sense's "Pop's Rap"... the lazy list style song ("Shout for the Voiceless") that Buck 65 likes to stick on each of his albums, where you just read off a list of things with a common theme for three and a half minutes and pretend you've written a song... The title. And they are genuinely irksome - I would like this album twice as much if he could just wire-brush all those little bits away. He's like a good author who just needs an editor.

But after a little while, getting mired in the faults is missing the point. This album is a pleasure to listen to if you're a fan of this kind of indie, semi-avant garde hip-hop, and it shows real talent. Newstalgia is eighteen full-length songs, so each flaw is like a little buoy floating in an ocean of quality stuff. Or at least a lake. Is it the kind of album I'll revisit time and again for years? No, but I think this one shows Time has the potential to make that album down the road. And that's a lot more than you can say about most of these guys out there doing it.

*And he is making a genuine point with it... I've written about references for references' sake. But Time is actually saying something besides just pointing out that he knows Joyce exists.

No comments:

Post a Comment