Monday, November 24, 2008

This Dual Core Music Has a Grip on Me

Last year I wrote the following: "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."

Allow that to stew in your brain pan for a moment?



It’s not the quote that strikes me as so odd – if anything, their continued output has proven my point – but merely the timeframe. Though I’ve known their music for only around 18 months, I simply can not fathom a time when I didn't listen to Dual Core. Like a good book or a fine film, their music exists in a space outside of the temporal. It’s a feast for the ears, and, indeed, for the mind, that seems familiar much in the same way that a foreign beach or exotic mountaintop may seem familiar; it appeals to some baser instinct, some unnamed part of the human psyche that marks and responds to veracity.

From the opening strains of the first track to the gradual fade of its unlisted final remix, Lost Reality, the group’s third album, continues their well established reputation for excellence. I can’t recommend it highly enough, but that won’t stop me from trying.
  1. "For Real"
    Dual Core have made no secret of their problems with radio rap’s commercialism and lack of greater artistic depth, so it’s logical that they open Lost Reality with a celebration of "the true heart of hip-hop." Producer c64 makes his presence felt through a favorable combination of light, airy piano and a heavy beat while int eighty "dedicates" the album to his hip-hop forbears: b-boys, DJs, MCs, and graffiti artists. The opening salvo summarily reminds the listener that Dual Core, while doubtlessly nerdy, have their hearts in hip-hop culture, and sets the template for the album to come. And on a purely personal note, never before have I heard a more convincing validation of nerdcore as a style.
  2. "Beginning of the End"
    "Dear Mama" for the hacker set? Maybe. Personal but not sappy, "Beginning of the End" lets you know how eighty became eighty through slick storytelling and a well-metered flow. 64 once again demonstrates his knack for incorporating just the right sample at just the right time for maximum impact. The track further helps to establish the album's recurring motifs, but, at a healthy five minutes, manages to keep things interesting.
  3. "Unplug"
    A turning point of sorts, this is a song for programmers, developers, or anyone else who lives the bulk of their life online and plugged in. It’s another long one that keeps things personal but expands its scope to include elements imminently relatable to fans. Props to the guys for their skillful reflection on "Dull Boy" from their debut album, and the effortless way that song’s refrain carries through. But don’t be fooled; this is less a continuation of that theme than a different (perhaps more universal) look at the same sort of digital miasma that plagues so many of us who work in the tech sector. With lines like "my desk lamp burns midnight oil," int eighty’s penchant for quotable lyricism remains, quite obviously, intact.
  4. "Hold On"
    A musical change-up that takes you by surprise, "Hold On" kicks up the tempo a bit as well as the aggression. eighty comes through as hip-hop motivational speaker while 64 lets us see a side of his production style that he seldom reveals: his inner musical mad scientist. The beat that is so compressed and intense as to put you almost on edge, but all the way eighty admonishes you to hold tight, not merely for this track, but for the rest of the album to come. A musical signpost, this song serves as an aural cue, telling you that Lost Reality’s artistic peak is fast approaching.
  5. "My GF is…"
    Trailing in expertly from the previous track, "My GF Is…" is another amazing story-song. You could call it "Hostage Down" for non-gamers if you felt so led, and I, at present, do. This tribute to geek girls is certainly on par with modern classics like Schaffer the Darklord's "Nerd Lust." Easily one of c64 and in eighty’s finest efforts, its sing-along chorus – an element, which, while prevalent in Dual Core’s music, is often the shortcoming of CS rap in general – contains just enough humor, just enough doe-eyed infatuation, and just enough allusions to Hackers. Though I’m nothing short of thrilled with eighty’s contribution, this is easily a track in which 64 displays his musical mettle.
  6. "Fantastic Four (ft. Beefy, YTCracker, and Wheelie Cyberman)"
    The third in a trio of veritably flawless offerings, "Fantastic Four" is, conservatively speaking, the finest nerdcore posse track since "Nerdcore Rising," and quite possibly the best of all time. 64 exercises amazing restraint by letting these four epic MCs do what they do in a manner that is very Jurassic 5 (and, yes, that’s a huge compliment). eighty’s slow and steady flow is a nice counterpoint to Wheelie’s speed, while Beefy’s sharp annunciation plays well off YT’s thick, nasally drawl. A highlight of this or any album that is sure to please. Truthfully, this is the sort of track that almost makes an album hard to review because you just wanna keep listening to it over and over! If I didn’t know better, I’d think this song was crafted just for me.
  7. "Random Bits"
    With listeners breathless from the previous barrage of razor-sharp witticisms and tag team MCing, this track trails in with an oddly dissonant flavor to the beat. Surprisingly short and very techy, "Random Bits" boasts a level of smooth DG posturing that would make YT proud. A nice change of pace, this one reminds us that Dual Core, while now wholly entrenched in their "sound," are unafraid of experimentation.
  8. "Lost Reality (ft. Ill Poetic)"
    Damn it’s nice to hear some political venom for a change. Am I sick of hope? It’s a possibility, but it’s much more likely that, like eighty himself, I’m simply a bit tired of election year promises and bought-and-paid-for optimism. This uniquely nerdcore take on the current political state features the best use of Bushisms in recent musical memory, and guest rapper Ill Poetic comes through as another Class A contributor. While a political track on such a personal album may seem an odd choice from which to draw a title, the song is yet another high point on a disc full of superlative material. While eighty has long demonstrated his ability to convey sorrow, elation, and resonant concern, the anguish and frustration inherent in lines like "Do you even know who your representative is?" further serves to highlight his scope as a vocalist.
  9. "Judgment Day"
    Another movie song in the spirit of "A New Hope" (the first cut from Zero One), "Judgment Day" takes on the Terminator mythos with skill and vigor. At once a counterintuitive follow-up and a perfect transition from "Lost Reality," it serves to blur the line between political reality and nihilistic allegory. While int eighty’s stark rhymes seem firmly placed at the forefront, this track all but belongs to c64 as he pulls out all the stops to draw you deeper into the dense undertones of his creation.
  10. "Rock It"
    In short, this is just as big a banger as the title implies. After plying his skills as a lyrical chameleon up to this point, eighty sort of reverts to his default flow for this track, but, to his credit, it still sounds great. The hook is screechy, pitchy, and somehow totally fitting, and lets you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this song was made to be performed live. Concert attendees take note: learn the chorus now. You will be expected to sing along.
  11. "Dual Core"
    Thus far I’ve bandied the word "personal" about fairly liberally with regard to this album, but this track takes that concept to its logical conclusion. We’ve admired Dual Core for three albums now with only the slightest inkling as to their origins, but at last their story is told. In verse, no less. With a lead-in I can only characterize as "crazy-ass" and a beat that is wholly fitting such an epic tale, this one links nerds and rap better than any song before in a firsthand account of triumph and gratitude.
  12. "Take It Forward"
    Slow and deliberate both lyrically and musically, "Take It Forward" confronts stereotypes head on and in a manner most eloquent. Much like the overall album, it brilliantly combines substance with uniquely relatable hip-hop. A song for anyone who’s sick of having to explain what they are as opposed to demonstrating who they are. eighty uniquely defines himself not merely as a hacker, a gamer, or a rapper, but as a complex individual who refuses to hide behind labels, even those with whom he proudly associates. Again, this is exactly the kind of personal, universal fare upon which Lost Reality is built.
  13. "Take It Back (ft. Stephanie KB)"
    A great counterpoint that tweaks the musical motifs of "Take It Forward" to make a completely different animal. While still figuratively centered on showing what you are by being who you are, it is quite literally about the tenacity of the gamer. While lyrically on-point, this track is so musically impeccable that it seems almost wrong not to tip the artistic hat to 64. Though I wasn’t exactly sure about Stephanie KB’s vocal contribution going into the track, by the last chorus I was singing along myself! Her voice adds a really different element – an additional aural texture, if you will – that compliments the booming beat and tight guitars perfectly. Another song that manages to remind you that Dual Core is much like gaming at its best: all about friendship, camaraderie, and frenetic action.
  14. "Player vs. Player"
    If there’s one thing historically missing from hip-hop, it is existential angst. This song remedies that by having eighty confront what can rightly be called his dark side. This nerdiest battle rap on record pits our own hero against a mainstream caricature of his genuine substance and style. While it features some of eighty’s sharpest couplets to date, it also shows an inherent understanding of the reasons behind his distaste of the overly simple nature of much of commercial rap: anti-eighty’s rhymes are funny but not necessarily fun and memorable without ever being clever. 64 again shows great restraint by letting the song be as opposed to trying to shoehorn in unnecessary elements. Seriously old school and really different than the rest of this album’s tracks in sound, but wholly at home in scope and still undeniably Dual Core.
  15. "Fantastic Four (Remix)"
    A second helping of the earlier musical excellence that was "Fantastic Four," this take lets c64 flex his muscles via a totally re-orchestrated backing – which is, oddly enough, the song's original take. Looser, with its lilting harmonica, but also somehow more appropriate in its less frantic state, this "remix" is every bit as good as the song's first instance. Once again, 64 proves that the best Dual Core remixes come from their own lab. A smooth jam that refuses languish, it wraps up the album nicely... except that it’s not quite the end.
  16. "Hidden Track"
    Taking us home is what can only be described as a crazy acid house remix of "Give Me Wings" (my favorite track from Zero One). While he’s come to the forefront several times in the album proper, this one is all 64. Further, it proves that, no matter how you slice it, he’s easily one of the best nerdcore DJs/producers out there. This one mixes well with alcohol for late night partying. It’s like a gourmet mint on your pillow at a luxury hotel; it’s not strictly necessary, but it reinforces the excellence of the overall experience.
One of the reasons I tend to eschew the word "review" is that it is positively packed with pretense. Most disturbingly, it gives the impression that I have done your requisite listening for you, when, in fact, it should do the opposite.

Whether I love or hate a track, I hope that my words don’t color your opinion so much as they challenge you to listen for yourself. My impressions are merely, as I’m so fond of saying, one asshole's opinion. And yet I hope you see it, at the very least, as an informed opinion.

And my (hopefully) informed opinion is that you should immediately purchase Dual Core’s Lost Reality. Not just because I enjoy it, mind you, but because I believe you will enjoy it.

It has a sort of universal appeal that can be attributed both to an obvious love of craft on the parts of both eighty and 64 and a uniquely relatable approach to songwriting. I think eighty summed it up best when he admitted that while their previous efforts may have presented opportunities to "get to know about Dual Core," Lost Reality offers the listener a chance to "get to know Dual Core."

And I highly suggest you do.

"The beat’s in the speakers, so we gotta rock it."


Matt said...

Fantastic Four can't be crafted just for you. It was crafted just for me. Unless you're me, which would make the drunken podcast just plain weird...

Church said...

@Matt: it might explain some of the more confusing bits...

Z. said...

We are not amused, Church. We are not amused.

Matt said...

so which moments were not "the more confusing bits?"

Z. said...

The parts where we played songs?

Matt said...

I love it when I answer my own questions.