After a few quiet years, Clams Casino is returning with his grandest artistic statement yet. The producer born Michael Volpe emerged at the turn of the decade, producing breakthrough tracks for Lil B, A$AP Rocky and Main Attrakionz, and his lo-fi style – with its moody melodies, faraway vocal samples, and massive, in-the-red drums – came to define the sound known as “cloud rap” and make him an underground star in his own right. His trio of Instrumentals mixtapes remain required listening for fans of hip-hop, electronic music and all points in between, and he’s gone on to produce tracks for The Weeknd, FKA twigs, Vince Staples and other. But those collaborations have been increasingly rare recently, with his output seemingly limited to a handful of songs per year.
Thankfully, it was worth the wait. On July 15, Clams Casino will release 32 Levels, his debut album and first proper body of work since 2011’s Rainforest EP. The record (which takes its title from seminal Clams-produced Lil B track ‘I’m God’) charts his development from crafter of mixtape cuts to producer on major labels’ speed-dials. As Lil B collaborations give way to songs with singers like Kelela and Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring, the album tells the story of Clams’ creative growth. This is very much by design. “The sequence of it is really important to me, and that’s the only way it really works,” he says via Skype from his New Jersey home. “With the range of music and the different types of artists – the whole scope of it is so wide – it needs to be organized in a certain way.”
The defining story of hip hop in 2011 was the rise of Odd Future. Tyler and company spent the year inciting riots and confounding critics, before establishing a record label and getting a TV deal. Whatever your take on the divisive and controversial crew, suffice it to say that the biggest lesson for fans of the genre is that 90s babies do hip hop differently: weirder, darker, and more drugged out. Knocking down the door that OFWGKTA opened up, Harlem’s A$AP Rocky has dominated the scene since LiveLoveA$AP dropped on Halloween. A$AP is nobody’s idea of a gifted lyricist, but the production on his debut is striking; it’s more sinister and more ethereal than anything in the game. The best known and most talented producer on the album is Clams Casino, but the album also features two cuts by the next star of based / swag hip hop: Spaceghostpurrp.
Miami’s Muney Jordan has christened himself with a name only a late night stoner can appreciate. Spaceghostpurrp’s influences are the epitome of millenial hip hop: early Three 6 Mafia and DJ Screw, Mortal Kombat and the occult, purple weed and purple drank. The beats are detuned, dripping with syrupy bass. Purists will no doubt blanch at his simplistic flow, but as for creating a vibe and a mood, Spaceghostpurrp is unmatched. From the skull emblazoned cover of last summer’s Blackland Radio 66.6 mixtape (stylized as Blvcklvnd Rvdix, in the style of the day) to fuzzy cassette type mastering, everything feels as underground as a coffin.
The 22 track Blackland Radio is predictably sprawling and uneven, but the highlights are diamonds in the rough. Beyond the unprintable chorus, there is actually a safe sex anthem somewhere in the raunchy boom bap of “Suck a Dick for 2011” (and fear not, there is already a 2012 follow-up: “Blvck Lipstick S.A.N.D. 2012“). “Pheel Tha Phonk” is classic g-funk lean, as if ripped off a tape released sometime around Spaceghostpurrp’s 1991 birthdate.
Last weekend I attended Spaceghostpurrp’s first hometown show, held in downtown Miami’s Eve (the former White Room, where I saw Rusko in December 2009), a pretty shady venue that stretches the definition of a nightclub. The crowd was, like Spaceghostpurrp’s Raider Klan, mostly underage, decked out in snapbacks and streetwear. Members of the Raider Klan crowded the stage, with various rappers and DJs taking turns warming up the crowd, with mixed results. The headliner’s set was brief but intense, and the crowd – ecstatic to see one of their own on stage – ate it up.
The fact that the show was one of his first is indicative of the music world in 2012 (just ask Lana Del Rey). This is an artist raised by both the streets and Adult Swim who has honed his craft in the unnerving glow of the computer screen rather than the stage. The contrasts are the foundation that allows Spaceghostpurrp to craft this otherworldly music. Other than sounding vaguely Southern, there isn’t a sense of place in his music (“the Internet” doesn’t count). Still, when he grounds his production in something more local, Spaceghostpurrp turns in one of his tightest songs yet: the Miami bass jam “Don’t Give a Damn.”
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In 2011, the world discovered Odd Future. In 2012, Spaceghostpurrp proves that 2011 was just the beginning.
The Internet killed the major record label business. Like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, the Warners and Universals of the world are already dead (spoiler!) – they just have to come to terms with it. As the majors wander aimlessly, searching for answers that won’t come, indie labels have never been stronger. With a seemingly never-ending stream of genres and sounds to mine, record labels can plant their flag, carve out a niche, and make a name for themselves.
After Let Me Shine For You, Tri Angle got serious, releasing Balam Acab‘s See Birds EP. See Birds is a nocturnal journey in all phases, from nightmare to dream to hazy awakening. Throughout the EP, echoes of horror movie drums are juxtaposed against airy, wistful strings and keys, a style epitomized by its book-ended title tracks. “See Birds (moon)” rumbles with murky bass blasts, while “See Birds (sun)” floats with bubbling aquatic sounds that give way to an upbeat, chiptune rhythm.
I’ve written about oOoOO previously. oOoOO is the easiest Tri Angle artist to fit under the witch house umbrella. His eponymous EP is more energetic than See Birds due to a preponderance of programmed beats. It also brings dream pop vocals higher up in the mix, whereas Balam Acab uses vocals to shade and color his compositions.
The most critically acclaimed Tri Angle artist, How To Dress Well (Brooklyn’s Tom Krell) fuses the ambiance of his Tri Angle compatriots with a deconstructionist’s take on R&B. Love Remains is haunting and romantic, with Krell’s breathy falsetto a counterpoint to the full-throated opulence of contemporary R&B singers. Like dance-focused rhythm and bass producers, HTDW feeds off nostalgia for 90s R&B, as Krell’s borrowed melodies leave the listener grasping at half-remembered dreams.
Combine the R&B of HTDW and the dance music of early industrial and you have Holy Other. Pneumatic beats keep time while synths and ghostly vocals fill in the blanks. “Touch” is Holy Other’s take on Burial-esque atmospherics, with “I’ve been looking for your touch” a weeping refrain.
The latest release in the Tri Angle catalog is Rainforest, by Clams Casino. As the title suggests, it is a technicolor nature symphony, with track titles like “Treetop” and “Waterfalls.” Clams Casino (real name Mike Volpe) has a background as a beatmaker for based rappers such as Lil B and Soulja Boy, but his tracks work better instrumentally. His diffused soundscapes and chopped & screwed samples melt and sway over left-field hip hop beats.
Next up on Tri Angle is more Balam Acab and the debut of San Francisco’s Water Borders entitled Harbored Mantras. Press materials cite industrial pioneers Coil and the dance music of Rinse FM as the inspirations for Harbored Mantras. “What Wiwant” delivers on that vague promise, with an undercurrent of sub bass, a collage of tribal effects and decidedly Gothic chanting.
Also keep watch for material from Ayshay, Tri Angle’s latest signing. Ayshay is the stage name of Fatima Al Qadiri, a Senegalese artist who was raised in Kuwait. “WARN-U,” both in song and video, seem to match the witch house sound and aesthetic, albeit with a distinctive Eastern vibe.
Call it witch house, drag, or chillwave, but when these ephemeral trends are over, Tri Angle Records will be left standing.