A fear years ago, I was turned on to an experimental hip-hop group called clipping. A pretty unique group for sure. They even stuck out amongst the rest of the artists signed to Sub Pop. The project was made up mostly of samples of field-recordings and blaring noise built into the beats. But on top of all this madness was an complex, maddeningly quick flow from a guy named Daveed Diggs. A few years later and there’s this smash hit broadway musical called Hamilton, and to my astonishment, starring a Mr. Diggs. Bells going off now? Have I piqued your interest? Keep in mind that when you know a particular performer exclusively from a group as noisey and confrontational as clipping., seeing one of them in something like Hamilton can be quite surreal. Here’s this little indie project that is the very definition of “niche”; this group’s sound is intentionally made to “weird the normies out”, so to speak, and one of them is also a key part of a massive cultural phenom.
So here we are in 2016, and we have not one but two new projects from the group in the form of an EP called Wriggle (that I may or may not review in the future) that came out earlier this year and this brand new full-length project, Splendor and Misery. And let me tell you guys, this album takes clipping.’s sound to a whole new level of obtuse. The idea here is, as described by the group, “an Afrofuturist, dystopian concept album that follows the sole survivor of a slave uprising on an interstellar cargo ship, and the onboard computer that falls in love with him.” Hmmm. Did ya catch all that? This type of thing would usually be a red flag for me that we’re in for a meandering mess that overstays it’s welcome. *coughcoughThatNewDreamTheaterAlbumcoughcough* But in actuality, this album is one of the most concise, to the point, and even poignant concept albums I’ve heard in quite awhile. This feels like a quick listen, as most of the tracks are two minutes or shorter. Usually I feel like elaborate storylines for albums don’t really add much to the experience, but the opposite goes here; it actually enhances the music, as the instrumentation is tailored to fit the mood established by the conceptual backdrop.
The plot here is almost like a reverse version of the HAL9000 storyline in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the music here reflects the sparse, isolated tone of that movie. This is one of the most minimalist undertakings clipping. have ever put together, and the atmosphere can be cut with a knife. This is definitely a soundtrack to being lost in space. A sense of void pervades this record, the album’s production perfectly conveying the emptiness that the characters inhabit. Diggs’ clinically tight flow is appropriate given that most of the record is narrated from the perspective of the ship’s computer. Consequently, a lot of the album’s sound consists of quiet, glitchy electronics, low-frequency mechanical whirring, and other industrial tropes. Parts of this record get so bare and minimal that it almost listens like some sort of bizarre sci-fi poetry slam being read over Merzbow being played through a PA.
But the real showcase here, as usual, is Daveed’s densely packed lyrics and sometimes maddeningly quick flow. It’s pretty impressive that he can drive a track along even when his backing can barely even be described as a beat. This is more cerebral compared with the viscerally hyper-sexual Wriggle EP. You definitely have to allow the atmosphere to sink in on this one, and nothing intentionally reveals itself; you’ll get out of this what you put in. This may sound too minimalist for some, but the silence here is just as important to the cohesion of the record as the story underpinning. With the exception of the more traditional texture of album closer “A Better Place” and the genuinely beautiful a cappella tracks “Story 5” and “Long Way Away”, the admittedly un-melodic, oppressively mechanical mood never really let’s up. This almost seems like a throwback to early experimental industrial artists like the UK’s Throbbing Gristle, as the cold soundscapes seem prefer to lay low rather than jump out at you. This is not a catchy record by any stretch of the imagination, but it leaves an impact deeper than any ear worm hook ever could.
-Air ‘Em Out
-Break the Glass
Released on September 9th, 2016 on Sub Pop.