Sunday, September 24, 2023

Unagi, Too

You may remember me posting a review of an instrumental album by producer Unagi saying, "listening to this gets me more excited to check out a vocal album."  Well, I guess he was listening, because - while he has occasionally rapped on songs before - he's just dropped his first proper vocal album where he's both the MC and producer.  Now, real quick, just in case I've got any residual influence left, I want to say: I think Special Ed and Slick Rick should record an album together.  Okay, now watch this space in 2024.

Meanwhile, back to the new Unagi LP.  It's called Terminally Eel, and the title is one of several eel puns he's named his albums after.  I actually only recently got it now because I googled the name "Unagi."  It comes from the eel in Super Mario 64.  Anyway, Terminally's an album of mostly all new songs, each of which are 100% full vocal tracks.  I say "mostly" because a few of these songs are remixes of rare vocal tracks from his past: "U Stole My Heart" is from 2009's Reinventing the Eel, "Sunshine" is from 2011's All Set and I think "Excuse Me" was an online only joint from 2021.

So if you're new to Unagi as an MC, he's got a relaxed, low key voice and simple flow you're either going to vibe with or not.  The most direct analog, I think, is mcenroe, who's always kicked a pretty similar sound.  But his subtle yet jazzy production - which, actually, is also pretty in tune with the Peanuts & Corn gang - will be harder for anyone to dismiss.  There's more of a uniformity to the sound on this LP.  We don't really get any bouncy tracks, or high energy ones.  It's smooth, cool, but when you pay attention, they're pretty hearty, with a lot of rich samples.

An underlying theme of this album is aging, specifically in Hip-Hop, and some of the conflict inherent in becoming a mature artist in a genre often known for its brashness.  But Unagi approaches this in a considerably more wry way than, say, Whirlwind D.  He definitely has a penchant for punchlines like, "stay way underground like a Thai soccer team" or "you make me feel finer than the kindest grass in the winner's circle at the Cannabis Cup."  I think he's also intentionally using dated references and creaky old school style lines like "you got me flippin' like Mary Lou Retton" or "like The Jerk with the Optigrab and the special purpose" to sort of ironically emphasize the theme of an older head out of his time.  Or maybe that's just his tastes.

He gets away with it, in part, I think because of his droll flow, where if you're not in the mood, you can just vibe to the music and glide right over 'em.  And they're all in the service of more interesting contexts.  For example, "Baystate OGs" is at once a fond ode to his home state, listing out everything it's famous for, "originators, man, you know how we're living: so old school we invented Thanksgiving. Center of the universe and you know it's all true, started basketball, volleyball and baseball, too. Indian motorcycles, guns from Smith & Wessun, cranberry juice, Dr. Seuss teach you a lesson."  But it's not afraid to cynically point out its flaws and veer into scathing take-down territory, "Boston traffic nightmare like Wes Craven... where the witch trials caused widespread hysteria: Massachusetts, it's the spirit of America."

So as you can see there, I don't mean to imply this album is all on one topic.  He's got a song about rural life in the country, a song about being an overlooked artist, a love song, cars, weed, 80s nostalgia... "Worstworld" is specifically about crises in current world events.  But even then, it's sort of from a midlife "things used to be better than this" perspective.  And even that song can't help but get a little irreverent at points ("blue versus brown: shoot now, proof later.  Now there's more dead cops than in the first Terminator").  Yeah okay, maybe it does go too far at points.  But there's a sincere melancholy in and self-deprecation when he talks about his life that keeps things from feeling too whimsical: "I love making music but don't care to promote it.  Maybe that's why nobody noticed."  The only flat-out jokey song I'd say is the final one, "Old Man Rappin," which reminds me of novelty rap records like "Geezer Rap" or "You Didn't Use Your Blinker Fool" (lyrically, not sonically), by which point I reckon he's earned a spot of unrepentant silliness.

And Terminally Eel gets the fully loved vinyl treatment.  It comes from his own 442 Records label in a color picture cover and also includes an insert with the complete lyrics and his discography.  Speaking of which, he also has a very limited edition LP release of his self-titled 2003 instrumental debut, Unagi, still available as of this writing from his bandcamp.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Two Gucci Crew IIs and a Lie

(Fake singles, a lost album and children's birthday parties? Youtube version is here.)