Friday, November 05, 2010

Refuse to Fall

Though they are (spiritually if not outright geographically) my hometown heroes, it's likely that you've heard very little from Charlotte's The ThoughtCriminals. If this is the case, then I highly recommend you check out their brand new and totally free EP Still Standing. Hell, even if you are already familiar with Mikal kHill and the boys, I still suggest you cop it.

This project kicks off with "Radical Ish," a tribute to Orwell's 1984 – the work from which the band draws its name. It's a frantic pile-on of live instrumentation, NES-based chiptunes and Mikal's own hip-hop delivery. It's dense and weighty, but never off-putting.

From there we transition to the lo-fi chip-funk of "Warp Zone," an explosion of guitar noise and game-centered lyrical aggression. "We," the EP's center point, proves an unexpected highlight, with a piano-backed lead-in that quickly transitions to a full-on electronic assault. The beat is undeniably forceful and aptly supplemented by its delicate melody, but its' kHill's frank exposition regarding the decay of a relationship that provides its true power.

Likewise, "Roll for Initiative" is a musical highpoint that should serve as a textbook example of The ThoughtCriminals sound. A hodge-podge of organic soul-rock, electronic drones, hip-hop politics and geeky swagger, it's a fantastic fusion of underground indie and straight-up nerdcore.

Closer "God vs. PlayStation" is actually an acoustic reworking of a song from Mikal's solo effort This is Not an Entrance. From its scratchy vinyl intro and delicate key lead to kHill's fierce, almost slam poetry-style delivery, it's a solid closer. Sure, the vocal harmonies are a tad flat at times, but it's still a great way to wind down a really interesting, fairly eclectic effort.

The ThoughtCriminals always put on an inspired live performance, but this sadly makes it a bit difficult to capture that experience on wax. Their 2009 self-titled debut (while an enjoyable album in its own right) caught the crew in flux, so the disconnect between what you heard at a show versus the album experience was a bit striking. Still Standing, by contrast, features a selection of newer material more tonic to the band's current setup. And fuck – you can't beat the price!

If you're a fan of unique underground hip-hop, well-rounded fusion instrumentals or chip music, The ThoughtCriminals are for you. And if you like all three in equal measure, prepare to have your playlist assailed by Still Standing.

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