PITCH BLACK PRISM by Alias
For pure output, it’s hard to argue Portland is anything but a hip hop city. Caro Khan, Vinyl Cape, and Essence (check her new video for “Lookin’ Ass” on the Youtubes) will all release albums in August, Ryan Augustus put a record out a couple weeks back, and the Yeti and J.J. King introduced the summer with discs just before Memorial Day.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up. In truth, another three interesting hip hop albums are already in summer’s rear-view mirror: a second effort in three months from the Yeti, the first full-length work from Alias in three years, and the sophomore release from the MC-producer duo of Dynamo-P and Micodin. All of them deserve some consideration.
The least “hip hop” of them is Alias’s Pitch Black Prism, a collection of 13 tracks (two of them are just 40 seconds), with only two featuring vocals, and only “Crimson Across It” coming close to a traditional piece with an MC delivering over production. It even has a chorus.
But that one is damn hard to miss, as long-time anticon. collaborator Doseone blasts through a sinister and rattling screed overtop a spare beat that gets the heart racing. Like Heath Ledger as the Joker on all of the amphetamines. Among a litany of put downs is this one: “A small man loves his things.”
The other vocal work comes via Therese Workman (a/k/a Oh My Goodness) on “Indiiggo” and was leaked out via a preliminary EP in March, but it likely didn’t get enough attention at the time. In contrast to her typical bounce, Workman is here made Cylon, droning and robotic, pulled back and ripped apart like taffy: “You gonna let me do the downtown shuffle.”
The album’s remainder is largely dark and brooding, with plenty of work that would be right at home on the Milled Pavement label as well. Halfway through “Vallejo’s Sapphire Views” it becomes clear there’s a religious quality to it, a chanting, meditating way of interpreting the world. Maybe the most distinctive part of what Alias is doing is the ever-changing nature of the production. It’s not just a matter of setting up a beat and letting it run for 12 bars and then mixing it up for the chorus. Each measure is slightly different from the one before it, whether part of a transition, or missing a note on the four or with a heavier bass note rippling underneath.
Thus, the edifice constructed is one with jagged edges all over, windows in places you don’t expect, stairways to nowhere.
Maybe the strongest track is the title cut, with a strong ’80s undertone, the synths bleeping and blooping like the Manchester sound of Joy Division, but with a jagged and recalcitrant beat that might make clubbing difficult. At two minutes, the bass beats are like the Fourth of July fireworks finale, a chest-pounding series of punctuations that grow distorted as the melody bits work their way in through a long, hot summer night.
NOT HITTING THE WALL Dynamo-P & Micodin give us Serious Problems
That’s something the Yeti could get with, considering their newest piece, Hendrix, is an album full of hip hop created from Jimi Hendrix tunes (“Long Hot Summer Night” is on Electric Ladyland), chopped up, cut back, and blended into the kind of high-end experience we’ve come to expect from producer TheLin and MCs Syn the Shaman and Dray Senior.