Hip-hop and retro revivalist-adventurist Spree Wilson has always been an attention grabber. Whether it be with his mixtapes, his unconventional formula, or personality, he has succeeded in stealing some small spotlights over time. However, with his latest mixtape, The Spark, he’s aiming for bigger ones and it’ll be a shock if he doesn’t find them as The Spree is a smartly-crafted, extremely accessible piece of work that highlights some comparisons to contemporaries like Andre3000, Raphael Saadiq, Bruno Mars, and even Beck.
The Spark starts on a high-note with “Answers” and its full-throttle attack of cut-together snare beats, a faint horn accompaniment, and a killer neo-soul-tinged chorus. It builds momentum as it goes and drips with eerie intrigue in its atmosphere. It’s a bold start and really sets The Spark up to be something potentially great. Unfortunately, it proves to be one of the few moments of true artistry with the majority of the rest of this release coming off as an expertly-crafted combination of Top 40 kind of moments. While some of them prove to be dazzling, they ultimately end up forgettable and pale in comparison to the truly great moments here, like the aforementioned “Answers”.
Wilson doesn’t slouch on any of the tracks though. He goes big every time and several times emerges with really impressive results. It’s not a stretch, by any means, to imagine most of these tracks to break through to the mainstream’s public conscious. After all, they’re nearly all intelligent tracks that feature a really accessible pop shine to them (the dark and propulsive “Answers” being the only exception). “Sharpshooter”, for example, starts off sounding like a Plastic Beach outtake and then gets injected with an unhealthy amount of Auto-Tune.
A very select few times, Wilson manages to combine both the challenging aspects with the radio-ready ones for very fleeting moments, like the verses on “Ghostchild”, which boasts one of the album’s most sports-bar-ready choruses. The guitar work on the verses of “Running In Place” sound like they were lifted from an early Pedro the Lion release. Wilson also allows some time for slow jams, which showcase some of his versatility and talent as a vocalist. “Rare Moments” wouldn’t have felt too out of place on Nostalgia, ULTRA- and that’s a pretty promising thing. If Wilson ever decides he’s going to take a particular direction, whichever way he heads, Speakerboxxx or Love Below, he’s got the talent to make it work.
What really sets this release apart from a lot of other major pop airplay radio contenders, though, is the lyrics. Even when Wilson sounds like he’s aiming for super-stardom with the production, he backs up the track with surprisingly intelligent sets of lyrics whether singing or rapping, both of which he does adeptly. In today’s world of dumbed-down radio-pop/rock (see: Kings of Leon, Buckcherry), it’s kind of refreshing to see a trend emerging on the soul-revivalist side of things; genuinely good songwriting.
With The Spark, Wilson manages to pull off a neat, albeit flawed, trick, being able to capture your attention throughout the entirety of its playtime. However, the downfall comes in the safeness that he dabbles with in The Spark with the end result being a record that’s pleasant to listen to, but is ultimately too inoffensive or challenging to stick. It’s a mixtape that’s as easy to turn on as it is off. Had Wilson indulged his more eccentric side at more points than he does here, this may have been one of the first great mixtapes of the year. As it stands, The Spark, for being so unconventional comes off as surprisingly ... conventional.
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