[25 April 2012]
Regardless of all of the arguments, prevarications and confusions surrounding the term “cloud rap” (and even Lushlife himself has written a think piece on the topic), one thing I really appreciate about many of the producers traditionally lumped in with the grouping is their evident appreciation for the beauty of raw, gorgeous, good sounds—at a high bit rate on really good speakers or headphones their beats sparkle and shimmer, wisp and waft, with little of the dullness or muddiness rap fans have often had to put up. Even with an aesthetic outlier like Spaceghostpurrp, the muffled cloudiness he brings feels intentional, like just another carefully placed ingredient in the sonic stew. When your audience is a bunch of stoned people, hey, stoned people get really into music, they have pretty sensitve hearing. Audio quality is important to them. And Lushlife, in that same think piece, may have referred to this album as “increasingly low-fi”, but I’m just saying: this record sounds really, really good, in that same way. Play “Magnolia” to a stoned person on some cheap Sennheisers and I’m willing to bet you’ll probably see a face light up. The quiet but deep and swinging bass, the percussion spaced out around the mix, and those gorgeously enunciated background arpeggios—it just feels really, really nice, like a massage for your ears.
And, opting as they do for classily buzzing synths, pretty chopped loops, and solidly syncopated drum patterns, these songs all sound really nice. Lushlife is a perfectly fine if inobtrusive rapper; I’m totally down with listening to him go do his thing for an album, but his guests are great too, pulling in big new indie-rap names like Heems and Cities Aviv alongside standby Styles P.
Oddly, though, the end result is a record that hasn’t really made any huge or particularly-memorable impression on me at all, though I still think it’s really, really good. Many songs are even pretty great. Perhaps most importantly of all, even: I don’t think there’s a single song I don’t like here. Every one of these songs, when I put it on, I go, “oh yeah, that song! I like that song. That’s cool, yeah.” Every groove is pleasing and expertly-constructed, there aren’t any lines or flows that jump out as weak, and a lot of these songs make great cherry-picking playlist fodder. By those standards, this album is a rare consistent treat. Any time one of these songs has come up on a playlist I’ve thrown it into I’ve smiled and thought, “oh yeah, that song!”
The problem with so many songs provoking an “oh yeah, that song!” is that it belies another truth: I’m often hard-pressed to remember these songs ten or twenty minutes later.
Even just sonically, there’s a classicist coldness to the album that is both aesthetically gorgeous and yet somewhat inescapably distancing, giving the end impression of staring at a beautiful landscape through a lens that, for all its crystal-clearness, is hard to entirely forget. Sometimes it’s just something in the tone of the sounds, sometimes it’s made physically manifest as a quiet crackling of vinyl buried under the mix, but even as impossible it is not to notice, I don’t think I’d want the album to go without it. There’s something striking about it, like the feeling one gets when watching an HD period piece.
In fact, classicist is a good word to describe this record in general – there’s no one album this really sounds like in particular, but many of its elements can be traced back to various comfortable antecedents—the your-mileage-may-vary long speech clips of Wu-Tang, sped-up soul loops and chopped reverb-y vocals. But as by-the-numbers as a song like “She’s a Buddhist, I’m a Cubist” can sound, it’s still pretty gorgeous.
Sometimes the combinations can even be surprising, in the ways their unusual juxtopositions belie their oddly comfortable feel – “Progress (Sun Glitters Reprise)” has all the lurch of a Jay-Z-waxing-nostalgic / Mr.-Hudson-epically-wailing-about-(life)-(love) joint, but spaced out with sharp and smart little trilly synth flourishes that just feel so nice to hear, a female vocalist who sounds so much like Bjork that you could easily mislead someone without a tracklist, and then some actually-epically-wailing-like-Mr.-Hudson chopped-and-processed vocals that feel ripped straight from the Clams Casino lookbook. I mean, various levels of traditional “guilt” aside, these are all still pleasures, so it’s nice as well to see them working so successfully together. I just don’t know if it’s something I would find myself returning to again and again, unless I remember to put it in a playlist to surprise myself again. But, having heard it again, I would definitely buy this record, if it hadn’t already been sent to me. So that’s a win for Lushlife! I would just then feel lightly, pursed-lips confused about how I felt about it, but hey, money in the bank and tracks in the playlist, so I guess that works out for everyone.
In the end, Plateau Vision comes just so close to really sticking its landings in my head and my heart, but I only remember it’s there when it pokes its head back above the water.