If you know Mike Clouds’s work, it’s likely because of his team-up with A-Frame, the motormouth MC who took Portland by storm then moved to Hallowell and might be back again. On 2004’s and 2005’s Life on a Bar Stool and Life with a Hangover, Clouds largely stayed out of Frame’s way, giving him a solid foundation from which to explode all over his hard drive, and when you talked to the two of them in person, there was a similar dynamic: Frame yakked and yakked; Clouds largely stayed out of his way.
So to see Clouds putting himself in the spotlight isn’t exactly revelatory (he’s been trying to develop his own distinct presence on the local scene for some time), but is at least like hearing Phil Collins was launching a solo career. I figured he was more of a glue-holding-people together kind of guy, less of a frontman (he’s even remixed a Hiss & Chambers track).
And, on Milled Pavement Records’ Blown Speaker Project, Mike Clouds doesn’t do a whole lot to dispel that notion. The CD’s packaging features only an extremely dark and opaque photo of him, the rest of the imagery dominated by a fetching young lass with “Love Is For The Weak” tattooed at her neckline (it looks pretty real, but could be a Photoshop number). And only one of the proper songs here doesn’t feature a guest artist of some sort. DJs can do their own thing if they choose to (see DJ Mayonnaise’s new record); Clouds chooses mostly to be a piece of a larger whole, like a good photographer deftly choosing the right light and pose with which to show off a pretty face.
Though I don’t have a moral issue with that or anything, I do wonder why he doesn’t choose to show off more. The disc has his name on it, for heaven’s sake, but most of the time you’ll find yourself paying attention to the standard crew of Portland rappers. There’s Syn the Shaman spinning an ugly tale of “High School Revenge,” boasting of being “back in school, callin’ in bomb threats” and declaring “‘Fuck you’ are the words it should have read/Right under my senior picture.” Ghost one-ups him, in “One, Two” not only declaring that he rules “the state of Maine like Governor Baldacci” (um, badly?), but also that, “I throw the backhand at homos like I’m pimpin’ a ho.”
|Blown Speaker Project | Released by Mike Clouds|
That’s literary, that is.
With Mike Clouds’s name on the front of the disc, it’s interesting to wonder about ownership. The individual contributors are credited, but it’s Clouds who has chosen this collection of songs to wrap his arms around, and the disc, all of its parts included, stands as his personal piece of art. Where does credit, or blame, rightfully lie?
It’s true that on both of those tracks, Clouds sets the mood wonderfully. He’s a producer, and does a fine job of laying groundwork for the MCs to build upon, but it’s hard to say he’s anything other than a role player in the creation of the piece that reaches the listener. The beats might rattle the windows, but they won’t rattle your cages.