The following sentence offers no pretension, but it’s merely a warning: Hip-hop heads who aren’t open-minded to abstract and experimental boom-bap can stop reading here. If you’re willing to dive in, though, then keep on going. The duo of emcee Zilla Rocca and producer Douglas Martin aren’t interested in making stereotypical hip-hop, even if the elements of the music are all there. And even with all its forward-thinking and left-field tendencies, it’s still accessible enough for listeners who aren’t stuck in their ways. Truthfully, it’s not even that out there, but it does take a certain kind of hip-hop head to appreciate hearing Zilla spit over an Elliott Smith or Radiohead sample across the fantastic and free The Slow Twilight.
Although the intro and second track “No Resolution” are a fine way to lead into this record, it doesn’t truly jump-off until you hit the outrageously dope Western shoot-out of a track called “High Noon”. With wavering guitars and Zilla rapping through a distorted mic, this song is the epitome of grit. Zilla also spits one of my favorite lines of ’09 in which he references No Country For Old Men and demonstrates some solid internal rhyming: “I got the shit that makes Anton Chigurh shiver.” And from that point on, the intensity and grimy undertones never cease. “Rabbit Season”, which features great verses from Zilla and his friend Nico The Beast, is driven by a noisy blues riff. Then there is “Eric Lindros”, another guitar-riff-driven joint on which Zilla likens emcees to Eric Lindros, an extremely gifted hockey player who never took home the Stanley Cup – a clever reference for the disposable nature of rappers today.
The standouts don’t end there. And, like in any good duo, both Zilla and Martin are equally to blame. Production-wise, Martin certainly holds his own. And I’m not just saying that because we share a last name. Though it might be a stretch to some, the man’s talent behind the boards equates to a combination of MF DOOM’s movie-sampling weirdness and El-P’s early grittiness. As for Zilla, he blends stream-of-consciousness one-offs with witty wordplay and storytelling to make sure you are listening to more than just Martin’s ridiculous beats. “Sharpen Your Teeth” is a fine example of that, as Martin weaves in an Emily Haines sample beautifully on the hook with more piano and her gentle voice as Zilla tackles feelings of depression and loneliness. Just as poignant is the Elliott Smith sampling on “Stay Clean”, a haunting and somber track that further demonstrates the 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers’ versatility.
The Slow Twilight only stutters during the aforementioned first and second tracks that certainly aren’t bad, but they don’t resonate like the others. And, as stated, the subject matter and Zilla’s otherwise unconventional voice (for some listeners) might deter some listeners. But if anyone reading this review should be convinced that this is absolutely an album worth playing at least three times. If it sticks with you by that point – or on first listen – it’s likely your third listen won’t be your last and you might even try to track down the Shadowboxers to thank them for such a strong record.