Thursday, October 1, 2015

Big Boi x Phantogram - Big Grams Review

On Big Boi’s Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors he attempted, sometimes valiantly, sometimes regrettably, to incorporate Indie Synth darlings into his work. It further exemplified the aged emcee as a connoisseur in risk-taking, but saw some shortfalls in its execution. One of those artists was Phantogram, featured on ‘CPU,’ ‘Lines,’ and ‘Objectum Sexuality,’ the last one being one of my favorite tracks from 2012. A bond and sound was formed, which has now led to a seven track EP with some help from Run The Jewels and Skrillex. Now, Big Boi might be one of my favorite artists of all-time but even I won’t put on blinders to ignore concerns over this EP, entitled Big Grams, as it laid evidence to a more streamlined style that may compliment pseudo-Indie Pop but not Hip-Hop. The two lead singles, ‘Fell In The Sun’ and ‘Lights On,’ while fine tracks, failed to wow and left me expecting the worst. With the EP finally hitting shelves, one listen through the quick collection shows those two tracks as the worst, thankfully, as some succeed admirable, with others excelling spectacularly.

What Vicious Lies indicated, and the overall sound here confirms, is that there’s some sonic pairings that just don’t work, no matter how hard they try. Big Grams can be as fun as it wants, and boy is it, but it can’t be critically adorned. Phantogram pulls towards Pop, Big Boi pulls towards Funk, and while the two can overlap, the disparity within the details, namely the gushy content and the synth-based background, crowd the product into a muddled sound not good enough for either. Again, that’s thinking critically and for a potential long-term influence. For the short term, Big Grams, as the pairing had always intended, is fun. Opener ‘Run For Your Life’ may be a great starter point to see why, with a first verse from Daddy Fat Saxxx that shows his versatile flow as it effortlessly slides across continuously added drums, bass, and plump synths. Surprisingly, despite Big Boi’s noted acclaim, Phantogram’s presence on the EP seems to be equal to the ATL legend. Standout track ‘Goldmine Junkie’ sees stellar production from Josh Carter with an enchanting piano line and riveting bass, while Sarah Barthel steals the show in a simple chorus that demands presence as the music coincides to the loudness with her. 

‘Put It On Her’ though switches things up to a Southern chill vibe, with classic ‘Kast trumpets and a pitch-shifted vocal verse for added effect. And I’d be remiss to fail to discuss ‘Born To Shine,’ with Run The Jewels. While El-P does his thing, Killer Mike, with his stage-stomping intro, steals the show, the drastic shift between verse and chorus disrupts the song slightly though. Finally ‘Drum Machine,’ with a clear assistance from Skrillex, does as it says, acting merely as a tour de force of drum and bass, falling short due to its unfocused content and simpleton use of the drum machine. The finale though, with a brooding low end, sends the EP off in style, concluding Big Grams and its commitment to entertaining. While I still can’t shake the atrociously mundane track titles here, what’s held behind them brings out the delight in Big Boi and Phantogram, and while the sounds together don’t always work, the chemistry seems right on point. Sure, it doesn’t attempt to change much, but looking at Big Boi specifically, I’d much rather see seven fun-filled tracks without much content within than a proper follow-up to Vicious Lies with Phantogram. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, lasting just as long as it should, and for a quick, accessible piece, Big Grams does what it’s always intended to do. 

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