Album Review: More Than Ever

WonkeyDude98
Mini-Description: In my twenty-fourth album review, I finally dissect Sims' latest experimental madness -- and find why at its core it is the best hip-hop album of 2016.

Best Songs: "Voltaire", "Gosper Island", "OneHundred", "Shaking In My Sheets", "Spinning Away", "What They Don't Know", "Icarus", "Oakland Avenue Catalpas", "Badlands", "Brutal Dance", "A Bad Flying Bird", "Flash Paper"
Worst Song: "Buckets"

There's some things that have to be spoken of.

When I last covered Doomtree on their album last year All Hands, I loved it. It's a beautiful, arctic ouroboros project that analyzes humanity through a tight scope. But I made a fatal mistake in that review: I had not gone through anything else the group had made. So for this review, I went through all of Doomtree's albums, which accounted for 20 albums of material, to flesh out my understanding of the group.

And hoo boy.

As for the group projects, False Hopes, Self-Titled, and No Kings are all classics with an old-school flare and bombast with lyrical content that was way less fragmented than Doomtree's newer stuff. What this meant was that All Hands is hands down the showiest and most frigid album the band has ever made, which would usually equal it being the most enjoyable for me....but with that also came the risks of having production that could misfire very badly, that the album couldn't always back up. As a result, All Hands is my least favorite Doomtree group album, and one of their weakest albums period.

How'd the solo stuff go? Well, it went awesome. Mike Mictlan's brutal, almost twisted passion led to music that was more fascinating than anything, with his first two albums Hand Over Fist and SNAXXX being nearly perfect, despite the fact that he nosedove in 2014. P.O.S....okay I can't say I was a huge fan of his albums. Mostly because he reached for extremely high concepts in his music, but his very raw anger meant that he never really reached them, even if I respect his craft.

But from there on out, there was only greatness. Cecil Otter's more reserved harmony very much contrasted his bleak savagery, and Rebel Yellow stands as an absolute masterpiece. And Dessa? Ha, well....she could very well make a list of my top 5 of all time, being ridiculously versatile in both rapping and singing, having near infinite emotional range, and holding a knack for writing narratives with incredible nuance, particularly with the modern classic Parts Of Speech.

(in short, Dessa > Cecil > Mike > P.O.S.)

But...Sims? I remember my All Hands review (and my comments on the middling atrocity Spill Me Up) talking about him, and suffice to say I wasn't kind. I thought of him as an amateur with lackluster flow and rhymes that often got annoying. But then I took a step back and realized that Sims is the best guy (key word) in the group. Where the others are, for the most part, pretty conventional, for the lack of a better word, Sims took unbelievable risks in both his content and production. He's offbeat, weird, and above all interesting. His rhyming pattern (or lack thereof) does bug me, but he's such a captivating performer, why should I care? His 2014 album Field Notes stands as one of the best things the group has ever done.

When I heard about the fact that he dropped a new album at the beginning of November, I knew it was going to swallow me for the next month, and I was expecting something really special. Did I get it?

YES.

Make no mistake, More Than Ever is absolutely transcendent and stands as the best hip-hop album of 2016 thus far for being a stunning, raw examination of Sims himself, while still being one of the most wild and incisive. How does it stand up to other Doomtree albums? Well....while it's a small step-up from All Hands, I'm not quite sure it's the best thing the group has ever made.

But that's taking away from how amazing this is, and most of that is traced back to Sims himself. He's just as, if not more off-kilter and eccentric than ever, with his flow flipping and flying across beats as he soars out of the mixes with vocal layering that only accentuates what's already there. And yeah, his rhymes sound natural on this album. Sure you get your Flash Papers that bend in all different ways, but his bars connect, not just lyrically. And while he's not as wild or expressive as, say, Danny Brown, but his voice has this edge of uncertainty that when matched with some of the themes can really wrack the nerves.

Where THAT'S most tested is the instrumentation and production. It's a very steady build, but this easily has some of, if not, the loudest and most memorable bangers in hip-hop in 2016. It doesn't just settle on its catchiness however; this album is dangerous. An experimental self-entity that spans upon the grime synths that characterized All Hands, but switching out the frigid distance with an odd flare that focuses the lens to be just on Sims. The mixes are usually less stuffed, but there seems to be so much more going on beyond just the synths, with oscillating bass and blocky, fully-formed trap beats being a consistent presence throughout.

And again, it's a steady build. A Bad Flying Bird contains mostly of bass drum and explosions of percussion before the sizzling glitch peppers the rest of the song with hi-hats sprinkled throughout. Icarus takes a sharp turn left towards sweeping synths and snares, all backed by HUGE blasts of horns that makes for one of the most insane grooves all year before things mellow down ever so slightly into the cracky glitch with a mutating bass that forms Brutal Dance.

Of course that doesn't last long, with the half-assembled melody and 808s of OneHundred met by monstrous walls of blaring synth, as Flash Paper calms the mix yet again with the swells of bass, frantic muted central synth, reserved backing synth, and chunky, meticulous percussion, at least until the core of the album erupts on Spinning Away with the icy whistling keys and the echoing clicks of the percussion are enveloped by a whirring grinding synth that builds and builds until the midway point of the song where it shrieks and explodes into one of the heaviest minutes in hip-hop, probably ever, accentuating Sims' already frightening despair.

This mellows yet again on Oakland Avenue Catalpas, with the buzzing seethe of the bass guitar mashed against the shimmering keys and wobbling grind of synths, it's an uneven song that still has so much control. Of course, it doesn't stay that way for long, because then we have What They Don't Know which has a hook that absolutely goes nuts with frantic footwork and blaring siren-like synths to boot. It quiets again in the fuzzy, distorted popping Badlands with synths that honestly remind me a bit of My Own Nation (the worst song off the last album), but given a restrained darkness that that song never dared to try.

The last three songs on this album get pretty bleak texturally. Shaking In My Sheets is all clinking and twinkling synths that blend into each other with precise trap snares and welling bass providing support. Then we get to Voltaire, which....wow. The icy grumbling twinkle of the bassy synth starts off with an atonal chill with the awareness that something is very wrong, but somehow, as a buzzing gleamy synth comes over the entire song, even without a real pattern, it becomes all the more ethereal and haunting.

And the outro, Gosper Island, shows the very most beautiful and down-to-earth moment on the whole album, with the sandy beat roiling under the fuzzy, muted synths that build into an incredible crescendo, then the strings come in, and...yeah.

Now, the production isn't without its issues. I do wish there were some more organic textures to emphasize the rawer moments here (or at least be as showy as All Hands was), and I didn't really love the atonal warble that translated into the chorus high synths and outro baby noises on Buckets, even if that song is still all kinds of awesome.

The production as a whole is so underappreciated; take your Rae Sremmurd and your Lil Yachty, I can have beats that hit far harder and have so much more complex layering and are more fleshed-out entirely thanks to Sims.

Of course, when you take a look at the lyrics....this isn't an easy album. This is easily one of the most fragmented yet cohesive things Sims has ever done. Again, it starts off rather small. The first four songs are mostly Sims reestablishing himself yet again, firing at the middle-grounders of the general public, the critics who try to bend Sims' messages in ways that might seem preposterous, and the SJWs who seek to take down Sims. But at the same time, he wants people to listen to what he has to say, for their sake and his, showing himself in the role of Icarus, soaring through the sky and his music endlessly.

But then the album seems to shift entirely on the couplet of Flash Paper and Spinning Away showing Sims' desperation with himself and the fact that he has an audience that wants him to connect in ways that they want to rather than how he wants to, being unable to do that. From then on, we see him shooting into the sky and looking into the heavens, only to....not find them.

Then we get a much-needed midsection song What They Don't Know, which now more than ever is relevant (lol punz), as Sims unleashes his political rage against a government more willing to bathe in its own drama and stories than take into consideration very real issues, calling out Donald Trump himself. In a current time where Run The Jewels 3 still hasn't been released, we can definitely use that!

From there, the album starts to become far more laser-focused. Oakland Avenue Catalpas shows Sims just going through the motions, however tough that may be, especially now. Both Badlands and Buckets get even more intriguing, describing how Sims is no longer the struggler he once was, and while he realizes the what has happened positively because of it, it's also made everything gray and predictable, so now he wants to make the mundane and the music ("his only one") seem euphoric.

Then....then there's Shaking In My Sheets. It sounds like a sex song, which for Sims is an absolutely preposterous concept. However, when you dig into the details, you can tell that it's most likely about Sims' wife who fell into fatal illness for a while, and however close to debauchery it might become, they must do whatever they can to keep each other together.

And then....well....things get really heavy. Voltaire vividly describes how Sims was just going to a club with his wife, until one of his close friends was shot dead...by accident. He couldn't have emotionally or mentally prepared himself for that, and his delivery which is only held back from being teary-eyed screaming by the vocal compression makes it all the more chilling.

And then there's Gosper Island. A song that in itself focuses on Sims piecing together his life, knowing that there isn't an easy way out. His enemies' tactics aren't overwhelming to him anymore, mostly now that he has to deal with his own personal demons. Then the final stanza....man. Sims describes how artists take simple sound waves only heard through the echo to tell such beautiful stories in ways that connect to their audience, whom the artists in turn compact those sound waves and give them back to. So simple, yet so amazing.

I really love this. Honestly not since To Pimp A Butterfly have I enjoyed a hip-hop album this much. Sims shows yet again that emotionally terrifying, complex rap doesn't have to sacrifice arguably the catchiest, most titanic, most experimental bangers you'll hear in 2016. Fittingly titled, because this is a 10/10 and my highest of recommendations. I will not call this Sims' best work, Field Notes just plain rules, but...man if 2016 didn't need an album like this. Check this out, and get more than ever.

This is WonkeyDude98, and I'm so sorry this took so long, but this album was so dense and tough to decode, I had to make sure I was really careful writing it. Anyways, I'd like to ask you all again to hold off review requests. I have over two dozen albums to review before I can even think of the year end lists! Whatever, easy stuff first, which makes Bruno Mars next.

Comments

Nice review. - ProPanda

thanks - WonkeyDude98

EDIT: The rating is missing for some reasom in the mini-description.

For those too lazy to read the whole review...

10/10 - WonkeyDude98

When are you going to so Corey Feldman?
Also, have you ever heard The iPat? - RalphBob

That's coming very, very much later.

No. - WonkeyDude98

P