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Album Review: Chill, DummyWonkeyDude98 Mini-Description: In my twenty-ninth album review (that was supposed to come out tomorrow), I talk about P.O.S' latest album, one I wanted to be one of the best of the year. Spoilers: it's disappointing. Big time.
Best Songs: "sleepdrone/superposition" ft. Astronautalis, HardR, Allan Kingdom, Lizzo, Linda Lisa, Kathleen Hanna, Nicholas L. Perez, and Eric Mayson, "Gravedigger" ft. Angelenah, "Infinite Scroll" ft. Manchita and Open Mike Eagle
Worst Song: "Roddy Piper" ft. Moncelas Boston
I've reviewed Doomtree twice in the past. The first time was with their latest group project All Hands, an amazing monolith of an album that tore the group (and the world) down to the rawest of humanity, a frigid unrelenting beast seeking to drag the listener deep into the wild, it's easily one of the best albums of 2015 and I highly advise you check it out if you haven't. The second time was with Sims' latest solo album More Than Ever, which was somehow an even better album of roaring bangers that merged a nuanced opulence with some genuinely dark and personal moments.
However, I want to go back to that More Than Ever review and go in detail more of a certain part of it, and that would be when I talked about P.O.S. Yeah...I stand by what I've said. I don't really like his debut Ipecac Neat, and while all his albums afterward slowly project upward into greatness, he's never really struck gold with me in the same way that all other Doomtree members have. Part of this is because of how his style blends with his lyrics. He's a fierce, raw MC who really thinks what he says. It's just a shame that half his lyrics delve into conspiracy theory nonsense which can be quite hard to stand.
Additionally, his very brutal, punk-ish persona, while cathartic and populist, combined with his ragged production can get slightly monochromatic and become really tedious after a while. What does he do that Sims doesn't, is what I'm asking. But hey, he's been steadily improving with each album and he was set to drop a new one in January, so this had to be good. That was further driven by the singles he released beforehand: Lanes and sleepdrone/superposition, both of which I loved (of course for one of them that's changed but more on that later). I went in expecting one of the best albums of the year. Did I get that?
Well...the short answer is no. Not only did I not get one of the best albums of the year as well as a considerable regression for P.O.S, you could make the very credible argument that this is the worst album that any member of Doomtree has ever recorded. None of that means that Chill Dummy is a bad album, but it's really not a good one, or one that connects well at all.
And to explain why, I want to get the lyrics out of the way quickly. Because if I'm being honest, these are the best lyrics that P.O.S has ever written. Then again, that's mostly because of his lack of competition. P.O.S has a penchant for some really cringeworthy punchlines and ideas, including conspiracy theory nonsense that doesn't flatter P.O.S at all. This album...has none of that. Sure, some groan-worthy concepts like the self-explanatory Thieves/Kings or the information overload on Infinite Scroll, but barring some Black Lives Matter references, this album seems overall less political than any other P.O.S album.
Rather, this album seems to be staring more inwards, being more content with the world around you even as it's tumbling upon itself, and acknowledging on Infinite Scroll and sleepdrone/superposition that not only can anything happen, everything can happen. This is especially apparent when you consider that P.O.S had a very fatal kidney failure that he even references within the lyrics. And even with how I find P.O.S' dismissal of the outside world and technology a little cliché and unsubtle, it really only highlights that he's evidently as outside of society and he wants that, which is further highlighted as he would rather feel the rush of a euphoric moment than just sell out.
And on that topic, let's talk about the long, LONG list of guest stars. On Bully, Rapper Hooks completely fails at what he's obligated to do delivering a strangely clunky hook alongside Moncelas Boston doing his best Cecil Otter impression complete with insufferable pitch-shifting and bleeping out random words. On Faded, Justin Vernon and later Lady Midnight almost ruin an otherwise great song with an excruciating crooning post-hook. Now, unlike most people, I didn't really like Busdriver's verse on Pieces/Ruins. It was a competently written verse, but he could not stay on beat to save his life (we'll get to more on this later). I would say Dwynell Roland's verse is slightly better, but not by much for the same reason.
And as if Cecil Otter wannabes weren't cool enough yet, we have Gerald crippling Get Ate with his painful strained oversinging on the hook. Keep in mind there's two repetitions of the twenty-ish second hook in an 86 second song. And speaking of which, we have Marcelas Boston reoccurring on Roddy Piper and not improving in the slightest as he's blended even more intensely with the pitch-shifted layering to trade off being less choppy.
But are there any guests of value? Well, yes. Open Mike Eagle find reason within himself amongst Manchita accepting hypocrisy on Infinite Scroll, and Angelenah probably dropping the best guest verse on this album on Gravedigger by primally ripping away the veneer and being honest with denying proposals while filled to the brim with rage.
Then there's the full house showing on sleepdrone/superposition, which has about three different hooks and maybe five or six guest verses (not counting P.O.S, whose second verse is the best on the whole album) that all flow together seamlessly, it's incredible.
That being said...that's where my praise practically stops because now we have to get to P.O.S himself. Now, I've never really considered him a bad rapper. He has a visceral, punk-esque delivery that gives even his most tedious material a character and energy that cannot be matched. So for this album, alongside 30 seconds each song of obnoxious adlibs, he simultaneously oversells and undersells. Usually, he tries to make his voice even more rough-edged than before, which leads to a lot of the first half of this album being more than a little unlistenable. And sometimes, he brings back his singing. Dude, it was insufferable on Heavy Metal Music back on Audition, why would you ever want to bring that back? Only exacerbating how grating Born A Snake was and completely ruining Lanes for me, the only place where it's remotely tolerable is on the hook to Pieces/Ruins, mostly because P.O.S restrains himself at all. And it's not like his flow is inherently great either. Forgetting Pieces/Ruins, his flow takes weird twists and turns that almost remind me of Sims, but more tasteful. The worst example probably being on Wearing A Bear a mostly standard song until P.O.S drops the flow for random laughter and adlibs, twice. In a row.
But now, we have to get to the big elephant in the room and that's the instrumentation and the production. I want to get the moments I actually liked out of the way, because there aren't a lot, and the moments are incredible. The bassier beat driving Faded that sounds like the hip-hop version of David Bowie's Lazarus, the icier pianos with rattle-and-hum and intense swells of gospel on Infinite Scroll that remind me of a fusion between Kanye West's Runaway and something off of All Hands, the unexplainable melancholy in the muted trap beat against waves of smoldering synth on Gravedigger, and especially the toms and bass drum kicking against a dark, glitchy synth line on sleepdrone/superposition, man the last parts of the album ruled.
With all that in mind...I get what this album was trying to do. It reminds me a lot of More Than Ever, as both albums match out wild, explosive beats with ones with more quiet to emphasize human moments (though in the case of both albums they could have used more organic instrumentation instead). So what makes Sims good but not P.O.S? Two things.
One: cohesion. Sims' style may have varied from track-to-track, but he knew better than to try and slap on both sounds on one song. P.O.S doesn't really seem to grasp that, with the quiet moments not even crescendoing or building well to those bigger heights healthily, almost as if P.O.S is forcing it out. The only songs off More Than Ever that did this in really any way are Spinning Away (and even then that song was just one gigantic buildup itself) and maybe Brutal Dance. That song brings me to point two: control. Even at the loudest on that album, Sims managed them in a way that was incisive, with the huge synths and horns actually having a melody. Not only can P.O.S not build to these climaxes well, when they do pop in they're so ear-splittingly loud that it's almost earrape, and I don't think that's what he was going for here, with the big offenders of this being Born A Snake and especially Roddy Piper. The only place this is remotely tolerable is on Lanes, mostly because the synths and bass actually blend well which means neither overpowers each other.
And even ignoring that, the individual compositions are borderline disastrous. The skittering synths that fall down the scale against female squeals on Wearing A Bear, the bass-heavy cracks on Bully, the bassy trap beat that switches from ear-to-ear and the constantly involuntary tempo-shifting on the excessively awkward Pieces/Ruins that ruins (lol) all three verses for me, the sandy layers of synth on Get Ate, the terrible cymbal production and chipmunk sample driving Roddy Piper until the earrape chorus, the stiff clacking and synth vibes on Thieves/Kings, and the constant pitch-shifting and compression all over this album only serve to highlight how scattershot and almost unfinished this album feels. Which brings up a question: doesn't this sound cheap for a bunch of bangers?
Agh, this review came off way more negative than I was intending, because there are enough good lyrics and songs to push this to a light 5/10, but even that feels kinda generous, when you consider that the performance, guest stars, instrumentation, and production all almost universally fail. I really can't recommend this to anyone besides the few Doomtree fans more diehard than I am. And even then it might be very underwhelming. Chill, Dummy is a fitting title; when it comes to my hype for this album and its actual quality, I guess this dummy really should have chilled. Sorry.
This is WonkeyDude98, and IT'S MY BIRTHDAY... tomorrow. Yeah, I actually intended the satisfaction of finishing this review to be sort of a birthday present, but then I looked at the Billboard charts and I realized yeah that's not happening. After a top 20 ranking, Chris Brown is next for real this time.
Nice. - ProPanda
Excellent review. Also, happy birthday. - SwagFlicks
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