Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Open Mike Eagle & Paul White - Hella Personal Film Festival Review

You know, for all the undergroud Hip-Hop genres currently being ousted by more vibrant, alluring Internet-based hype artists the abstract unravelings of the Hellfyre Club are staying afloat. It's proven my point that non-conforming art has the opportunity to stay around much longer than their in-the-moment brethren. Serengeti, P.O.S, Aesop Rock, Yoni Wolf, Kool A.D., Milo, Open Mike Eagle, all extending their careers through a commitment to the craft. It's those last two though that are really the focus. Acting as identical twins birthed from their father Busdriver, Milo and Eagle have adapted the playset they were given by pushing more content out over smaller spans of time. Two releases a year, collaborating with others often, seems to be the trend. More than that, they seem to be improving with each go around, Milo's September release So The Flies Don't Come possibly their best outing yet. Next up is Hella Personal Film Festival, a continuation of Open Mike Eagle's entertainment-based titles, with complete production from Paul White, whose seen his work appear on Danny Brown's two most notable records. The two, already, seem inseparable, with White's sample-based, vocal-laced background performance competing fairly with Eagle's densely comedic, personal, and political lyrics.

Hella Personal Film Festival begins with what would later become my favorite track. 'Admitting The Endorphin Addiction' glides effortlessly through an infinitely likable Soul and Funk foundation, riffing with guitars, drums, and distant echoes of a time long since past. How Eagle sports his stories, in a haphazard flow that teeters on each note is sensational. For listeners, it's the perfect introduction to both Eagle and Paul White's sound. What I find most surprising is, for all the work Eagle does to grab your attention, either directly or indirectly through intriguing regressions, White's production ends up stealing the show as a whole. I had an image in my head of what decade he meant to idolize until I realized nothing seemed concrete, he constantly keeps the sound moving, with inspiration taking form in every decade dating back to the 50's. Much of this success arises out of the vocal samples; deliberately hazy, their small, but powerful existence allows Film Festival to consistently remain exciting and captivating. They're rightfully cinematic, but not in a multi-million dollar production kind of way, but one that works with what little you have. Like an Old Western finding ways to incorporate stunts, or a modern Indie taking performance art to a personal level.

On cuts like 'Dive Bar Support Group' and 'A Short About A Guy That Dies Everynight,' White takes his invaluably knowledge of not just music but film to create something that works in both regards, the story-telling Eagle adds only goes to prove the producers work of eliciting this sort of response. It's not like those two are outliers, the bulk of Film Festival warrants this compliment. 'Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)' sees Eagle comment on internalized racism as he views it, providing (sometimes) eye-opening rebuttals that you typically wouldn't hear, while on 'Check To Check' the emcee tells of his foolish circumstances trying to find a phone charger, a circumvented commentary on our society's obsession with handheld technology. So while the LP as a whole doesn't guide a singular idea, never to be expected from Abstract Hip-Hop, it does jump from one looming cultural criticism to the next continuously. This makes Eagle's work stand apart from his companion Milo in that the former picks apart broad ideas using a narrow vision, whereas the latter tells of personal quandaries with sweeping concepts. When you realize the two emcees are two sides of the same coin you really start to see the worth of each.

And yet, I keep wanting to return to White. His production isn't what carries Film Festival, but where Eagle's additions are expected, White's threw me through a loop. This isn't your typical underground Hip-Hop release, where they boldly claim their artistic distinctions but what they show within is held on the same plateau. Both 2014 releases, Open Mike Eagle's Dark Comedy and Milo's A Toothpaste Suburb failed to show true diversity when relying on the production, but here, with the reigns being handed to a single man who's told to make a batch of shorts, the concepts are sprawling. What stitches them together is the vocal underbelly, no track goes without one well-placed loop, and rooted Hip-Hop necessities. 'Dang Is Invincible' sounds like the soundtrack to your downtrodden man gone superhero, while 'Check To Check' frantically battles with technological hiccups. 'The Curse Of Hypervigliance' sees Eagle saunter through a lonely dessert, whistling as he works, while 'Insecurities' brings in tantalizing chimes harmonizing vocals from the Smooth Soul era. Oh, and those four tracks? They're all in a row on the LP. It's not like they're the perfect example either, Film Festival is just that consistent.

Really, there's nothing bad I can say about the album. Time will tell how it holds up to the best of the Hellfyre Club works, but as it lingers with me each successive day I only enjoy it more. It may not reach the highs of some of Milo's work, or even have anything as breathtaking as Eagle's 'Ziggy Starfish (Anxiety Raps)' or 'Big Pretty Bridges,' but it is certainly his most consistent effort. One quality song after another fills Film Festival to its brim, and if it isn't Eagle drawing you in with his tactile rhyme play-doh, it's White setting such a vivid scene for the ensuing play that you can't help but be awe-struck. Feature work is slim but essential, with Aesop Rock joining the duo for 'I Went Outside Today' and Hemlock Ernst, otherwise known as Sam Herring of Future Islands, otherwise known as how in the hell is this guy such a good rapper, on the cannibalistic 'Protectors Of The Heat.' Both provide expectedly great verses without detracting from what Eagle and White accomplish here. The telltale signs of an artist on the rise are written all over Hella Personal Film Festival's walls, we'll just have to wait and see who exactly is willing to follow.

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