Friday, June 19, 2015

Hudson Mohawke - Lantern Review

As descriptive as artists go Hudson Mohawke may be the one so distant in style from the music he creates. Known primarily for his work as one half of TNGHT, the scrawny Brit who flaunts oversized cat shirts levels audiences with brooding bass and anthemic horns, drawing enamored crowds as far-reaching as Kanye Wes. What’s lesser known than his staple beat for West’s ‘Blood On The Leaves’ is his catalogue, featuring a sound paradoxically opposed to his trunk-rattling jams that accentuates high-pitched synths, jutting lasers, and a rabid pace that’ll make rave clubs panic. One quick look at TNGHT’s Wonky flavor though and you’ll see the potentially pioneering sound do wonders, emphasizing a minimalistic approach to Dub-Step and Trap that turn both genres inside out. Mohawke’s trademark style, apart from a few lightning-in-a-barrel tracks, feels far less forward-thinking than his duo’s mesmerizing beats. With their current hiatus and a tenuous wait for Lantern, his next full-length release, Hudson Mohawke’s future trajectory was much less promising, and now that his album is out those proclamations may have been confirmed. Lantern is an uninspired work, one that explores the banality of R&B cliches by presenting them without a tinge of sarcasm, being saved only on occasion by some whimsical instrumental melodies. 

It’s often a knock on albums when the single, released months back, turns out to be the best song on the album. Here, it’s even worse. ‘Scud Books,’ in its nearly replicated primordial form, debuted in 2013. Along with a handful of other dandies during that time, like ‘Chimes’ and ‘Thunder Bay,’ Mohawke’s prominence rose with these infectious ear worms. That wanderlust forever present provided a nostalgic vision to definitive childlike moments, culminating in ‘Scud Books’ graduation-like epiphany. But just like how that goofy friend falls out of favor because he can’t accept adulthood, Lantern follows that same path, attempting to relive these moments without the essential spark, with matters made worse knowing the bigger man (TNGHT) has flexed its muscles. Nearly all the instrumental works here attempt to elicit Mohawke’s trademark sound, with distinctly little variation present. This doesn’t mean they’re all dull and unoriginal, some, like ‘Ryderz’ and ‘Brand New World,’ are complementary to Mohawke’s sonic vision, lavishly incorporating chipmunk samples and fidgety astral flickers that come close to his memorable older works. Unfortunately there’s far too many beats that aspire to something greater only to stumble throughout their progression. ‘Kettles’ and ‘Shadows’ each present this gathering storm ideology, only to wash away when the tracks anti-climatically end.

Half the album is a convenient expose of Mohawke’s talents, with the intersecting songs being instrumental segues, but the fully-fleshed out pieces seem anything but. Many, in fact, are some of the most lackluster tracks of the year, sporting laughable lyrics and shoddy production work. The glaring examples of these are ‘Warriors’ and ‘Very First Breath.’ Each one replicates mundane DJ mashups barely capable of being competent at the most generic sweet 16 party. The former executes the ‘fuck the haters’ motto with a voice that whimpers rather than standing deviant, ironic considering the message, and the latter parlays the lost lust of a fading relationship through shallow nostalgia. Whether Mohawke set out to make this baseless music or not, the final outcome would make your most casual club-goer groan. Really, even with Miguel and Jhene Aiko on board, ‘Indian Steps’ with Antony is the closest thing worth investing in, despite the obtrusive creepiness laced in his words. While the lyrics on all the songs themselves aim for pedestrian, Mohawke’s beats hardly exceed that not-so-lofty expectation. Thankfully, I suppose, the best beats here are left to their own devices, whereas the ones accompanied by singers fall as flat as the monotone deliveries over them.

Lantern is chock full of Hudson Mohawke’s signature dishes, the palate though is too sweet and short-lived. The comparison might be lofty but each beat here mimics your first taste of Sour Patch Kids; piercing the mouth, forcing salvation, as your muscles begin to contract, only offering variation with the subtlety of different flavors. They all bring the same criteria, an overdosage of high end whistles, synths, and tremble, culminating in a sound that his little opposition. An exception to this is ‘Lil Djembe’ which boasts the title of banger. A trunk-rattling bass distorts a wide array of sonic effects all following a similar structure, the input is rather rudimentary, the output, much like TNGHT’s work, is riveting. Problem is it’s the only one of its kind. Typically associated with Mohawke, the ‘bangers’ are no more, as his dedicated decision to shift away from unfolded Hip-Hop beats caused a more soft, wistful sound as seen on tracks like ‘Portrait Of Luci.’ The subtle, appropriately used vocal sample helps to embark on a romantic rendezvous that playfully bounces between foreground and background, the result enjoyable but far too rare. As previously mentioned, all beats joining singers feel stagnant, dar, and lifeless due to a focus on simplicity and understanding.

With the two-tone organization of Lantern the real disparity between Mohawke’s music becomes evident. His sound, marred by triviality, complacency, and redundancy, compliments modern R&B tropes to a tee. Lantern, on its own, is an unremarkable piece best stashed away for use in cliched commercials aimed at inspiring, with the hindsight of TNGHT however the picture becomes even more bleak. Lantern accepts a place in the foothold of crazed college culture where music lacks substance and is merely a facilitator of partying, rather than one that instigates it. There’s a definite lack of ambition, and apart from a handful of instrumentals that catch the fever of the Mohawke sound, nothing here is worth divulging in. Substandard lyrical performances with cringe-worthy topics help drive the album to mundanity, while the beats that join them feel ripped from your free audio-producing software with an amateur at the helm. Lantern is a far cry from TNGHT, the monstrosity that was its sound has left the remnants of a barren soundscape devoid of all creative expression, with only a few sparks of talent remaining.

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