Thursday, June 07, 2007

Not some lame campers

Ah, semantics!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t do reviews.

I do, however, occasional post a lengthy personal impression of an album of note. Such is the case today.

When the opportunity to score a free copy of Dual Core’s new release Zero One (simply by virtue of agreeing to discuss it) presented itself, I jumped on that shit. Having heard only a few clips of the album via their Web site and MySpace, I knew that this was the type of release that would bear repeated listening, and that’s imperative when it comes to arrangements like these.

It’s not simple enough for me to say “I like this” when it comes to sharing album impressions. If I like something, I want to know why I like it. The same goes for something I don’t like. It’s unfair for me to simply tell you something is good or bad without qualifying why I feel that way in as objective a manner as possible. That means, of course, that I have to listen to an album extensively. Agonize over it. Delve into its dark recesses. Ponder over its diminutive form. Sleep with it tucked under my pillow. Bathe with it…

Okay, maybe not that last one, but I do have to spend a lot of quality time with the release in question. And that’s why – for those who may be wondering – the impressions I share are overwhelmingly positive; if a disk doesn’t stand up to my rigorous listening regimen, it never makes it past the planning stages. In order for me to share my impressions of a release, that album has to make an impression on me. Such was the case with Zero One. Which I will now explain in excruciating detail… for your benefit.

  1. “A New Hope” – Dual Core start the album with a great musical hook and a calculated flow that let you know exactly what you’re in for. c64’s smart use of (blatantly uncleared) samples plays excellently against int eighty as he relates the overall plot arc of the Star Wars saga. While the backing loops get a little tinny and seems a tad thin at times, this track is mechanically polished, undeniably danceable, and manages to provide a funny and unexpected ending. I’m honestly not sure if I should praise or penalize eighty for the “dickfor” line, but suffice it to say it elicited a chuckle.
  2. “Try Space” – “Try Space” is, for those who’ve heard the track, the thematic flipside to Gym Class Heroes’ “New Friend Request.” The drastic musical change-up and slice-of-life lyrics seem to punctuate the idea that crazy girlfriends are a lot like the videotape from The Ring; the only way to save yourself is to pass ‘em on. While the manner in which c64 changes the beat up for the chorus sounds a bit drastic, it really helps break up the track. Plus it totally works, which is a testament to his gift for the craft.
  3. “War Games” – Here int eighty takes the sentient computer narrative well into new ground by paradoxically leading you on a pop culture trip through the forgone days of the vacuum tube, the evolution of ARPANET, and even to the birth of the consumer Internet as we know it, complete with clever references to all the relevant films. Musically and lyrically, this track is impeccable.
  4. “Rule Them All” – While it’s hard to unseat Lords of the Rhymes as the world’s preeminent rappers of Tolkien’s iconic saga, Dual Core aren't trying to. They’re simply putting their own musical spin on “traditional” nerd rap source material, much in the same way they did with “A New Hope.” c64 ‘s layered production approach really shines, and int eighty displays the scope of his hip-hop lyricism with multiple end rhymes and skillful alliteration. My only complaint concerning this track – and my only major gripe with anything on the album – is the vocal fade-out prior to the breakdown. It doesn’t ruin the song for me, but it does momentarily take me out of the experience. Of course, it also opens the door for some competent scratching and a well-placed voicemail from 64 himself that punch up the ending considerably.
  5. “Hostage Down” – I’m going to assume that everyone has heard this particular track and cut right to the chase: this is a phenomenal song. One could even say it’s Dual Core’s musical calling card, and with good reason. It showcases a smooth flow and a dazzlingly frenetic production style that aren’t simply accessible, but also completely danceable. The cleverly calculated, sing-along chorus makes this song sure to please. Hell, the track’s so solid that I don’t even mind that it’s almost 5 minutes long! A flawless hook, a bevy of (again: uncleared) samples, and some fantastic scratching make this the most convincing commercial for Counter-Strike imaginable.
  6. “Light Prototype” – Again, this is another track where we hear the duo put their own spin on a nerd music standard. Still, eighty’s nostalgic ruminations concerning Mega Man throughout the years are summarily enhanced by his interjection of a little CS rap know-how. Musically, this track was my least favorite on the album, but it’s still a smooth jam that serves to highlight c64’s range as a producer. For me, the outro really makes the track.
  7. “Void (No Return)” – What’s this? Another slow jam? Yes, but this time with a definitive purpose. Dual Core manage to do what law enforcement has feared for the better part of a decade: to put a human face on the perpetrators of cybercrime. Further, eighty’s lyrics serve as a reminder of that oh-so inconvenient truth that it’s a parent’s job to raise a child, and that fucked up situations very often lead kids down similarly fucked up paths. Truthfully, this is a brilliant track that is impossible to ignore. It affords the listener an opportunity to really get a feel for eighty’s ability to weave a lyrical narrative. And while I can see why some folks would be turned off by its “ripped from the headlines” approach, I feel this song shows how music – even within the relatively narrow scope of our subculture – can approach an important concept in a way that other media would (or could) not. Haunting, compelling, heart-rending, and ultimately important, I applaud the guys for including this track.
  8. “Dull Boy” – Work sucks songs aren’t a new concept, but Dual Core continue tradition by putting a great and original spin on the concept. While the understated scratching didn’t do it for me, the samples and the frantic beat really did. The same can be said for eighty’s take-no-prisoners lyrical indictment of office politics and the true bane of the worker: ineffectual executives. On the subject of the hard life of the unappreciated coder, Dual Core manage to voice frustration without sounding trite or whiny.
  9. “Cipher Punks (feat. Remington Forbes)” – This one is a true standout! int eighty and guest MC Remington Forbes manage not so much to lyrically wrestle, but flow around each other. On the production side, c64 remembers that less can be more and he merely interjects what needs to be there for the sake of movement. And anyway, nerdcore’s always been sorely bereft of competent beatboxing. ;) All-in-all, this song is a personal favorite. Remington is a standout guest, and he and Dual Core do their utmost to get you moving. The old school, street corner vibe of this track is simply flawless from top to bottom. I can’t praise this song enough.
  10. “First One’s Free” – While the quintessential Penny Arcade song has long been written, Dual Core bring to the table their own unique idea about what a musical tribute to Gabe and Tycho should entail. eighty alternately puts himself in the mix and ruminates on the brilliance of the comic’s storied past, and he doesn’t neglect to praise the creators for all they’ve done for both nerd culture and the greater community. Musically this track is also a little stripped down and a good build-up from previous entry. This amazingly crafted song left me with only one question: who the fuck is Mustafa?
  11. “2 Wycked” – I’ll be the first to admit that this track is the most lyrically simplistic on the album, but, truthfully, isn’t that what Carl deserves? Musically fierce, “2 Wycked” is hard not to love, especially if you dig Aqua Teen Hunger Force. This was the track where I found myself genuinely wondering if c64 isn’t a former club DJ, as the song simply moves along too perfectly within the confines of its challenging but danceable groove. Brilliantly placed samples more than make up for my minor gripe concerning the vocal meter of the chorus.
  12. “The Children’s Machine (OLPC)” – Listening to this musically untouchable and lyrically poignant offering, I can’t help but think that not many cats would write this song, let alone include it on their debut release. And, truthfully, I doubt anyone could pull it off with a similar level of care, skill, and dedication as Dual Core. Much respect to c64 and int eighty for making this, and more for simply doing it so well. I’m tempted to say this song marks the birth of a new breed of conscious geek rap, but you can tell from the heart-felt thanks dispensed to those involved in the XO-1 project that Dual Core aren’t concerned with making a name for themselves as the guys who bring heart to technical rhyming; they simply seek to state their gratitude to those involved in such an important undertaking.
  13. “End of the Road” – Okay, this one is gonna piss off some heads who question nerd rap and its place in the echelons of hip-hop proper, but such an argument is, in this case, totally unfounded. It is readily apparent that eighty and 64 have a genuine affection for hip-hop, and I feel that alone makes this track relevant. The guys aren’t merely calling out the rampant consumerism and lack of challenging themes in modern rap; in truth they are attempting to enact change by first changing themselves. Are the allegations harsh? Sure, but maybe they should be. And, consequently, eighty pulls no punches against bedroom MCs who claim their lack of polish as a badge of honor either. In the end, Dual Core practice what they preach by making the hip-hop they want to hear. Despite a minor lyrical misstep, this song manages to make almost 6 minutes of song time enjoyable and enlightening thanks to bright production that handily compliments (rather than overpowers) the lyrical truth as eighty sees it.
  14. “Give Me Wings” – “Give Me Wings” is the ultimate Dual Core club banger. The guys end on a high note, and it’s with some of their best work. The song itself manages to make the clichéd sound new again and to keep the hip-hop dream alive. It’s old school but not played out. It’s fun without being disposable. This track is almost the opposite of “Dull Boy;” it tells us how coders get down in the face of crunch time. If, despite the quality of the album so far, you’ve managed to hold onto any uncertainties concerning the dedication and skill of int eighty and c64, this should obliterate them entirely. In summation: lyrically relatable, immanently enjoyable, and featuring some of the best production I’ve heard period. Dance, muthafuckers!
  15. “Hostage Down (Remix)” – I consider these last few tracks the encore. Dual Core fed you a 14-course meal, but they also sprang for desert. It starts off with a fantastic remix of a fantastic track. Between this and the original mix, it’s a bit hard to pick a favorite. Thankfully, I don’t have to.
  16. “Cipher Punks (Studio)” – This version has a little more polish than the original, but it still maintains the former’s street corner aesthetic. This track once again reminds you what c64 can do. I love how he keeps the beatboxing at the forefront and merely builds on it to flesh out the song.
  17. “Light Prototype (Remix)” – This remix really rocks the 8-bit to put another spin on “Light Prototype.” Maybe the loop gets a bit repetitive, but it’s still a nice extra track.
  18. “Hostage Down (Radio)” – Lastly, we have a radio-friendly option of the album's first single for any interested parties. I always hate to hear profanity removed from a song, but the track itself doesn’t suffer without swears. That should tell you something.

While Dual Core’s first release does tread some common thematic ground, it also expands into subjects not normally touched on – or, at least, not generally elaborated upon – within the sphere of nerdcore hip-hop. More importantly, however, is the fact that int eight and c64 seem totally disinterested in whether the or not their song topics and methodologies are “nerdy enough.” They merely intend to make the best music they can for no other reason than the simple fact that they can. Their dedication to genuine quality and self-realization as artists bleed through every track.

In a genre that sometimes seems more interested in talking about music than actually making it, Dual Core stand out as a beacon of musical integrity. They make the music that they love, and (without regard to hype or criticism) int eighty and c64 focus on creating the most polished and competent tracks possible while still sticking close to that “love what you do, do what you love” ethic.

And that brings us to the only question that matters: would I recommend this album?

Certainly. Zero One is skillfully crafted without sounding pretentious, competently produced without sounding insubstantial, and delightfully nerdy without ever coming off as gimmicky. It is both a nerdcore album for fanboys and an excellent piece of hip-hop artistry for even the most rudimentarily open-minded.

Buy it for your friends. Buy it for yourself. Play it at your next house party, and take a stand for genuinely creative independent music.

“But still they don’t see what I’m capable of.”

2 comments:

ChurchHatesTucker said...

Another album I have to buy now.

You should give us a couple weeks notice that you're going to do a review. I'd buy the album on the basis of that, and it'd save me finding the review to reread once I've heard it.

Z. said...

Thanks for that vote of confidence, Church. :)