Album Review: All HandsWonkeyDude98 Mini-Description: In my tenth album review, I discover how "Death Grips for babies" can be used as a compliment.
Best Songs: "80 On 80", "Marathon", "Final Boss", "Heavy Rescue", "The Bends", "Cabin Killer", "Gray Duck", "Beastface", "Mini-Brute", "Generator"
Worst Song: "My Own Nation"
I've been parading for DoomTree for quite some time now, and for good reason, because they're borderline immaculate. Five rappers and two producers who respectively spit hard and make some killer hard-hitting beats, they're art rap at its absolute best. However, when it comes to accessibility, they're essentially the Swans of art rap. Their music is borderline impossible for a discerning mainstream listener to get into, mainly because their style is so dense and complex. I can't imagine going into one of their albums without serious precaution.
However, despite my love for DoomTree, I've never actually talked about them in detail.
But I guess it shouldn't be as much of a surprise that they made an album in January of 2015, and it turned out to be like this. All Hands is amazing, a tour de force from everyone involved, and while it does have quite a few issues (we'll get there), it's still an astounding listen that really should have been bigger.
With this album, DoomTree have very clearly taken inspiration from two hip-hop acts: Death Grips and Run The Jewels. While, admittedly, DoomTree, even here, aren't as good as either, they can definitely rally to match them. Death Grips has a knack for loud, noisy production that leans to darkness very often, which DoomTree did with this album. Run The Jewels have a penchant for beats that hit harder than a train, rappers packed with wordplay, and messages that are white-hot and political while still being ridiculously fun and versatile, which DoomTree does a bit toned down here.
As you can expect, most of the people working on this don't slack off, they know what they're doing. Of the five rappers, Mike is easily my favorite, having this undying charisma with each line he spits, not even to mention he's a technical genius with bars that range from knee-slappingly genius to straight-up hilarious. Dessa would be a close second, having an extremely authoritative vocal tone that never ceases to be gloriously rageful, especially on 80 On 80. Cecil Otter gets quite a bit of attention on this album, and for good reason because his more calmed restraint is a breath of fresh air, while he's still able to unleash thick, meaty bars. P.O.S. is a very raw MC who sacrifices punchlines with political anger and a great, husky vocal tone.
However, there is one rapper I haven't been able to get into, and that's SIMS. He can be very funny and witty at many points (that Crystal Pepsi reference...), but his technical abilities, at least in comparison, can be a bit....lacking. He drops his flow multiple times throughout the album in order to fill the meter, and his rhymes are a bit few and far-in between, not to mention what he does with the beats.
That reminds me: I absolutely love how on songs like Mini-Brute and Marathon, they switch up the instrumental to give each rapper an identity and place on the song. Which brings us to the big point...
The instrumentation and production is both the album's biggest strength and it's most crippling weakness. There's two sides to it, and I see both. On one hand, it was fitting this was released in January, because this production is absolutely FROZEN. Almost everything on this album is distorted and punishing, it rarely shies away from being creepy and distant. I'll get to more on why this works as well as it does in a little bit. On the other hand, while the icy sound of the album is definitely a thrill, for one-timers or casual listeners (assuming there are any of either), the constant atmosphere and dark nature of the beats often causes the songs to...run together a little bit, and the slowly monochromatic sound can make the album really tough and lingering to get through. You have to listen multiple times in order to really search for the different details.
And yes, the details are very much there. The glitcher-than-Super-Mario-Sunshine synth melody and absolutely insane hi-hats on Gray Duck, the blaring smoky crunch of Final Boss, the clicky vocal plucks that careen off the cloudy hi-hats, buzzy wobbling synth fragments, and echoey shrieks on The Bends, the absolutely beautiful guitar twinkle at the back of Heavy Rescue, the intense fragmented grind of Cabin Killer (which in terms of groove is probably the most conventional song on this album). Mini-Brute (this song of which at the beginning and end of the song glitches out in a King Kunta -esque fashion), Generator, and Beastface, the fluttery, misty pianos and buzzing, grand guitars that morph into a slightly less amazing tropical bass whirl and blocky, hazy synths by SIMS' verse on the killer closer Marathon, the terrifying distant empty effects of probably my favorite song 80 On 80, and not even talking about the explosion of drums and the claustrophobically-airtight mixing all over this album!
What I absolutely love is that despite the intimidating production, DoomTree still know how to make beats that bang, as well as making some truly fantastic hooks, such as on Gray Duck, or Mini-Brute, or Beastface, or Generator, or The Bends, or Marathon (we'll get to this later), or especially Final Boss.
Now, I'm not saying this production always works. In particular, two songs were held back by their beats. The first is .38 AIRWEIGHT, which despite the great explosive percussion, had melodies that were mostly comprised of late 80s chiptune, and because of that the song felt a bit chintzy is all. Even worse is easily the nadir of this album My Own Nation, which actually has some great verses which are driven by a punchy, popping beat with sandy snares. However, the chorus really does get under my skin. I wouldn't mind the lighter, floatier buzzing synths and the cleanly sung chorus if at least a half of the album was like that, but it's the only song, and that makes it really jarring. It seems like they were just trying to make a single to chart, but even ignoring how this song is the least cared about, DoomTree seems to have forgotten that they're a ridiculously inaccessible cult band, and their songs won't chart for that reason.
But all that can be justified, because now we come to the lyrics. Now, an important thing to note is that this album was written in a cabin, freezing and isolated from the rest of the world.
Can you tell?
Not only does this make the already frigid production even more fitting, it also explains the sheer inner personal commentary that the group delivers. DoomTree aren't stopping (hence the constant "never touching the brakes" theme) for stragglers to get it, they're seeing who will really appreciate the messages they are sending. And while this album does go very political at moments (with P.O.S. talking about Bernie Getts in .38 AIRWEIGHT, a man who infamously shot multiple black people), most of it is focused on solidifying their place in hip-hop and dealing with the self-doubt that they might not deserve their popularity, or what would happen if they end up barking more than biting.
However, one line in particular struck me in this vein, and that was the chorus of Marathon : "when it all boils down, there's nothing but bones left". When pit against forces much bigger than yours (as portrayed by Mike's final line in .38 AIRWEIGHT, "stick as my gun and point it at the sun, bang"), it's all about what you really are, or the bones.
There's one really odd quirk about this album, and that's the lyrical execution. The album is VERY abstractly sketched and cryptic, it takes many listens to really understand anything they are saying, and even then, there's more to find every time you listen. When it comes to a central theme or goal...DoomTree don't really have one. Really, their object is to drag you deeper and deeper into the dark wilderness where they wrote this album, and honestly, I'd be fighting to be that guy.
All things considered, All Hands by DoomTree is a very, very flawed album. But not only are the massive positives enough to outweigh the negatives (which also can be overlooked if you listen to the album enough), if there's one thing DoomTree proved with this, it's that Kanye West's abortion from 2013 Yeezus was a fluke, and that the title "Death Grips for babies" isn't inherently a bad label. A cohesive monstrosity with a ton of focus, with production that only highlights the album's distant, frigid being. A very strong 9/10 and my absolute highest recommendations. I'm bewildered this album wasn't and still isn't a critical gem, and if you haven't listened to it, check it out immediately, you'll love it. This is WonkeyDude98, and isn't the CN Tower beautiful?
Yeah, I love the chorus of Marathon as well.
Excellent review. - SwagFlicks
If I remember that was your favorite song on the album. Lol, that's kind of cheating because it's 7 minutes long!
Thanks! - WonkeyDude98
Back and better than ever. - ProPanda
Let's hope it stays that way. - WonkeyDude98
Missed your reviews. - Therandom
BACK BOYZ - WonkeyDude98
Good review, good way to return. - Skullkid755