COMMISERATING Trails feel your pain.
Twenty-eight seconds. That's the length of Kool G Rap's contribution to Trails' new Anvils & Pianos, the hip-hop duo's third release (and it might as well be their fourth release, too — at 19 songs, it's a monster).
It's legitimate to wonder if that's worth centering a Kickstarter campaign around. Ultimately, I decided I didn't care. How Trails raised the money to produce their album is irrelevant to whether you actually enjoy listening to it or not. For me, anyway.
But those 28 seconds are important. Perhaps you're not a pedant and don't insist on always listening to an album from its beginning to its finish. Maybe you head right to the track, "Ink Spatter," and it isn't the eighth song you hear. Regardless, it serves the same purpose.
Kool G Rap centers the listener, providing a frame of reference for the entire work. Although he's has been active all along — he most recently released an album in 2011 — Kool G Rap remains more associated with first-wave and '80s hip hop artists like KRS-One and childhood friend Eric B and Rakim, while much of Portland's hip hop scene has riffed on the later Wu-Tang and Tribe Called Quest flavors of the genre.
Seen through this lens, Trails' aggressiveness and tendency to enjoy getting under your skin are as much part and parcel of a Brooklyn-style (and not in the indie rock way) approach as personal declaration. Since there are so many words to this style of hip hop, there's a tendency to focus on the personal motivations of the MC, but that sells artists like Trails short. It's not that Syn the Shaman's vocals don't matter — they do, and they're consistently interesting here — but you can choose instead to listen to them as the backing track and theLin's production as the frontman if you'd like. There's enough going on. Once you shift your attention, it's like scanning the crowd in a sports action photo.
Listen to the way he takes over the finish of "Ink Spatter." After Dray Sr. has tackled the intimidating task of closing out for a seminal creator of the genre (his intro to "Prelude to a Yeti" is better, though — an impressive display of control and speed), theLin puts his stamp on the track, taking a turntable solo as he does throughout the album, so that it's not so much remarkable as it is just another instrument in the mix, like a lead guitar in a rock band.
The instrumental "Short Circuit," especially, is a jam, a free and flowing piece with horns and dancing guitar part, crisp like jazz guitar, with some Latin flavor. It's not the only time you'll be reminded of Guru here.
TheLin is excellent, too, at keeping things uncomfortable. Syn isn't out here to clown around for you, and he makes clear in "Peg Leg Full of Whiskey" that he isn't about to throw around catchy choruses just to please some dick who writes for the paper: "And isn't that exactly what freedom really means?/Isn't it the right to not give a fuck?"
Damn right it is.