Winter is on the horizon. Autumn is around the corner. It's a good time to take a quick look at some 206 beats that happened during this brief summer (all summers are brief, all winters are long). Of the six or so records that dropped, I'll mention three. The first, ANX, is by Dark Time Sunshine; the second, Pisces, is by the Flavr Blue; the third, Careless, is by J.Pinder. The first is a masterpiece, the second confounds all expectations, and the last is a solid, impressive, accomplished, unassailable work of local/national hiphop. Let's begin with a deeper look at the first summer album, ANX.
Dark Time Sunshine is Onry Ozzborn and Zavala. Ozzborn raps; Zavala makes beats. Onry is from Seattle; Zavala is from Chicago. Onry is a veteran and has deep roots in Seattle's scene (Oldominion, Grayskul); Zavala is still young and emerging. Onry's raps are as surreal as Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland; Zavala's beats are as impressionistic as Claude Debussy's "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune." The two first met in Portland, Oregon, in the late '00s, and the unity they formed from two distinct parts—Onry's hiphop surrealism and Zavala's triphop impressionism, Onry's dark ruminations and Zavala's glimmering sounds, Onry's hurt and Zavala's tenderness—has resulted in a magnificent trilogy: Believeyoume, Vessel, and ANX.
True, the best album in the trilogy is Vessel, but ANX, the only album in the trilogy that extensively uses—or appears to extensively use—live instruments, is a very close second. The top tracks on this 12-track album—"Cultclass," "Rock Off," "Prairie Dog Day," "I'll Be Damned," "Never Cry Wolf," and "Take My Hand"—all have that rich, deep, slamming boom-bap beat that Zavala first perfected on Vessel. On the track "Never Cry Wolf," the defining contributor on Vessel, Reva DeVito ("All Aboard"), makes a solid return. "Take My Hand," the first single from the album, features contributions from Aesop Rock and Swamburger from the Solillaquists of Sound. But the standout contribution on this album is by a rapper who died nearly 13 years ago: Rochester A.P. His ghost makes an appearance at the end of what I consider to be the album's summit, "Cultclass." And though Rochester's rap was recorded 14 years ago, you will find it untouched by the hand of time. Rochester A.P., the founder and spiritual leader of Oldominion, was indeed way ahead of his time.
The Flavr Blue is Lace, Parker, and Hollis. I'm new to Hollis but very familiar with Lace and Parker. Lace Cadence is a local R&B crooner, whose 2010 album Launchpad is a polished work of neo-soul. Parker is a rapper with the highly regarded underground crew State of the Artist. Earlier this year, Parker and Lace released an EP, Imagination, which smoothly blended their two worlds (underground hiphop and neo-soul) and also contained one of my favorite cuts of the year so far, "Blue Paper." The Flavr Blue completely breaks with Parker's work as a rapper and Lace's work as a singer. There isn't a hint of State of the Artist on Pisces—which is amazing when you consider the importance of Parker's contribution to the SOTA sound. Whatever you heard in the past (lyrically and musically) will throw little or no light on this new record, which is completely (from top to bottom) composed of pop vocals/lyrics and dance/house beats.
The impressive thing about Pisces is that it does the pop thing with almost no effort. Indeed, it might do it too well. One could easily imagine hearing one of these tunes ("In My Dream," "Roses," "Hideaway") on the radio and not giving it a moment's thought. It fits so perfectly, so seamlessly with the kind of wall-to-wall, hour-to-hour programming on commercial radio stations. Nothing stands out; everything is crafted for the pop market. The Flavr Blue's goal? Get a tune stuck in your head, which is exactly what happened on my third round with the CD—the tune "City Is Watching," which features Lace Cadences' heartbreakingly youthful vocals, got stuck in my head. I was not upset by this. The bass and composition of "City Is Watching" gave me a year's worth of guilty pleasure.
Lastly, we have J.Pinder's Careless, an album released by the Ballard-based label Fin Records. Anyone who has any doubts about Pinder's talent and importance to local hiphop should listen to this record. The young man knows what he is doing (his raps—which repeatedly evaluate the state of his friendships, the twists and turns in his romantic relationships, and his place in society—never sound stale), and he works with producers (Jake One, Vitamin D, Kuddie Fresh) who know what they are doing. Careless is packed without feeling stuffed and is deep without being profound or heady. It has the right number of tracks (eight), and each track has been crafted to meet world-class production standards. On this recording, Seattle finds itself in the company of Paris, London, Tokyo, and, of course, New York City.
This article has been updated since its original publication.