[15 January 2014]
Hip-hop is no stranger to mystery. Quite a few artists have learned that being enigmatic can generate some very positive hype. MF DOOM’s ever present mask, Death Grips’ unpredictable shenanigans, or Flying Lotus’ cult leader alter ego Captain Murphy are just the most obvious examples. But what about an artist that has completely immersed itself in darkness? 3:33 fits that bill perfectly and also proves that a thin layer of mystery can’t cure a sickly album.
In the Twitter era it’s astonishing how little we know about 3:33. They’re a group on Parallel Thought that make music somewhere between drone and instrumental hip-hop and that’s about all we know. Ages, locations, even the number of members in 3:33 are all gaping holes. Bicameral Brain’s track list and liner notes are just as baffling. Each track is labeled as “BB-(tracknumber)” or “BB2-(tracknumber)” and the notes read like the diary of a sleep deprived mad man, rambling on about dark visions and the two halves of the album representing the two halves of the brain. 3:33 certainly seems determined to work behind a veil of darkness as to create curiosity. Are these studio veterans testing out more experimental alleyways or is this the work of a lone bedroom producer, fiddling around with horror film scores on his or her laptop? Of course, these questions only remain interesting if the music can match the mystery, and throughout Bicameral Brain the sounds fail to speak for themselves.
The album starts out promisingly; the lead track allows itself to be swallowed in murk before the second track unleashes a drum beat that rolls out of the musical fog. It’s a shocking moment, like the first jump scare that makes horror movie audiences leap out of their seats. But much like a sub-par indie horror film, the jump scares are repeated until the adrenaline rush is replaced with apathy. The trick of a beat suddenly bursting to the front shows up much more than necessary.
Bicameral Brain does have the ability to create heart pounding tension on the first side of the album. Despite the overuse of lo-fi drumming in songs like “6” and “7”, 3:33 manage to produce chilling backgrounds that make you wonder who, or what, could have created the tracks. 3:33 unfortunately play this into Scooby-Doo levels of camp with the 10th track, which opens with a cheesy voice-over reciting the dangers of “a race of warriors who used neither weapons or shields.” It’s a facepalm inducing decision that drastically undercuts the seriousness of the music, making the entire album feel inconsistent in tone.
Though 3:33 prefer to stay in a boring haze on Bicameral Brain, there are two moments that reveal ambition beyond dark ambient slog. “BB2-13” and “BB2-12” come just before the album’s closing and both play with more varied noises. Light piano and shimmering guitar scratches float around in curious ways on “12”. “13” actually manages to be gorgeous, with humming synths that unfortunately build up to the disappointing final track, whic devolves into static, sounding like the group was attacked by the Slender Man while in the studio.
Bicameral Brain is fascinating in concept but is delivered so poorly that the uninteresting beats cloak the few excellent points. Perhaps those moments of aspiring genre mixing will be the basis for their next album. Here’s hoping, or the next 3:33 release will be as monotonous as the droning backgrounds they produce.