The diversity within underground hip-hop is what makes it such an intriguing musical realm. You can have acts like Intuition and Atmosphere tackling the woes of chasing females, among other topics, while acts like Tanya Morgan recall the days when Native Tongues reigned supreme. Then you have a duo like Dark Time Sunshine, which is made up of Onry Ozzborne, best known for his work with Grayskul, and Portland producer Zavala. To go one step further, though, these two don’t exactly exist in the underground when they combine their forces. Rather, these guys occupy the far reaches of outer space, where like-minded artists El-P and Aesop Rock, who makes a guest appearance here, have sometimes called home over the years.
Vessel, Dark Time Sunshine’s second release, demonstrates a logical, yet enjoyable progression from the duo’s first effort, Believeyoume, which was offered by Fake Four Inc. as a free download. While that project was certainly more than worthy of its bandwidth and hard drive space, it (rightfully so, being a free album) left you wanting more. It also left you wondering where Ozzborne and Zavala could go next, on their second trip through space-hop, fringe-hop, or whatever the hell you want to call it. Thankfully for Dark Time Sunshine and their fans, Vessel is, to be completely blunt, a fantastically crafted rap record that may or may not have been created in our galaxy. That’s not in the sense of Outkast’s ATLiens or an album of that ilk. It’s more like you feel as if you are floating amongst the stars in a galactic battle cruiser when Zavala’s crisp, driving production and Ozzborne’s potent vocals hit your speakers.
This isn’t what you would classify as “nerd rap”, either. I realize the comparisons to space-oriented hip-hop could give way to that notion, but as soon as the opening title-track, which bangs with distorted guitars, kicks off, you will understand. You will also get the feeling that you are in for a gripping listen, both musically and lyrically. That’s exactly what you get here. Instant standout “Now They Know” is Ozzborne’s haunting State of the Union, while “E.R.” cuts like a stuttering Nine Inch Nails-esque, storytelling trip to the hospital. Then you have a posse-cut like “Primor”, which boasts killer verses from show-stealer P.O.S., Peegee 13, Aesop Rock, and Ozzborne. They would rip apart any beat, but Zavala complements the insanity perfectly with emerging horns and tribal drums while DJ Zone scratches the hell out of the hook.
Later on the album, Solillaquists of Sound, Xperience, and Qwel, who slays his verse, turn “Instructions to Numb” into a joint that would sound right at home on a Subtle album. But the best part about all of these tracks? They sound excellent, whether you are bumping the album in your car or playing it through your headphones. While one might argue you would be better off doing the latter, to hear the intricacies of Zavala’s beats, they also deserve to be heard through a proper speaker-system and shared with the rest of the world, such as that annoyed guy sitting in the next lane.
Vessel only falters slightly when considering its replay value, which is slightly hindered by its hour-long playing time. The first few listens to this record are actually the most intriguing, because these kind of sonic experiences don’t come around too often. Its dense, heady vibe makes repeated spins somewhat difficult, as your enjoyment of the record becomes heavily based on your mood. But when the mood strikes you for something a little different, I bid you good luck in finding a better album from 2010 that will suit your needs.