Photo courtesy of artist

Lunice: CCCLX

CCCLX is an album that works best when experienced front-to-back, as the simply-built tracks effectively build upon one another toward a common end.

Lunice has long been one of those artists lurking in the background, showing up with occasional production and instrumental work but never stealing the spotlight from whatever artist he might be working with. The first time most of us saw him was when he strutted across the screen in the video for Azealia Banks’ “212”. Back then, he was just some guy. In a lot of ways, he’s still just some guy, but now he’s some guy who’s been all over the underground hip-hop scene while occasionally crossing paths with the mainstream via production work for artists like Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne. This “some guy” is ready for the spotlight, and CCCLX, his full-length debut, is how he is taking his shot.

As someone who has been around a long time without releasing a full album, it’s clear that Lunice wanted to make a statement of sorts here. CCCLX is structured like a live experience, complete with an intro, an outro, and yes, even a costume change. Guests show up to say their piece and get off the stage. A palpable build in intensity happens over the course of the album’s 11 tracks. It is absolutely an album that works best when experienced front-to-back, as the simply-built tracks build upon one another to create an overwhelming sense of oppression and dread, delivered with the confidence of an industry professional.

“Mazerati” is an early highlight, oppressive and confrontational in the best of ways, using samples in a simplistic but effective way that evokes early-period Depeche Mode of all things. “Drop Down” is built around a weird, watery sample that eventually leads to a fast-paced rap from Le1f that doesn’t add up to much lyrically but works awfully well as a complement to the sounds around it. To call it light-hearted might be a stretch, but it’s practically pop compared to many of the other tracks here. “Distrust” is nasty in all the best ways, following dark, minor-key synths into a paranoid tale of a police state. Closer “CCCLX IV (Black Out)” uses some excellent, almost bluesy vocals from SyV De Blare to fade out on something more upbeat, if only slightly.

Here’s the thing, though: To call any of these tracks “highlights” is to to use the term in a relative sense; they are slight highs on an album that’s remarkably consistent and can only be contrasted with slight lows. Opener “CCCLX (Curtain)” is hurt by some weak (or at least leaning into cliché) raps from CJ Flemings, but the production is fine if unspectacular. “O.N.O.” is overdramatic in a climactic-scene-in-a-film-noir sort of way, but maybe that’ll hit you the right way — it’s far from terrible.

What it all hinges on, then, is Lunice’s production, which is going to be divisive. Much of it is of the independent hip-hop style that artists without nearly the exposure of Lunice have been churning out for years, production that starts with a sparse beat, then adds a synth two measures later, then adds another synth two measures after that, then adds maybe a little static two measures after that, and so on. It’s bar-by-bar production, the type of production where you can see the seams, where Lunice isn’t doing anything to show off as much as he is trying to build his mood and tell his story. It’s fine for what it is, but it also positions him amongst the SoundCloud masses, a risky move for a producer trying to make a statement with his first album-length piece of music.

To that end, it seems unlikely that anything on CCCLX is going to thrust Lunice into the spotlight — there is nothing here that is going to cross over to the mainstream, and individually, the tracks aren’t even all that interesting, save perhaps for Le1f’s moment early on. The context provided by listening to the album all the way through is what saves it, what gives it a point of view. That point of view is decidedly dark and most definitely attached to the underground, and as a mission statement, it’s only going to attract a certain type of listener. At worst, though, it’s a document that could only be the result of a producer who’s found a sound that works for him. Its confidence is its identity.

RATING 6 / 10