Parallel Thought: 2012
Instrumental hip-hop can sometimes be a rather hard sell. While there hasn’t really been a shortage of instrumental tapes lately, (for instance Clams Casino’s excellent second installment in his Instrumentals series, or Bruiser Brigade producer SKYWLKR’s Impressions 2011), they are largely collections of instrumental versions of tracks produced for relatively well known rappers, regardless of whatever qualities may be unearthed in them once they are shorn of their vocal lines. It’s trickier creating an engrossing full-length of original instrumental hip-hop material that doesn’t have such an obvious anchor to the familiar–given the intrinsic importance of vocals within the genre. On their latest album Art of Sound, though, the three-piece hip-hop production troupe Parallel Thought makes an extremely convincing stab at it.
Credit where it’s due, the group, (which consists of Drum, Knowledge and Caness, who counts as the groups primary MC despite only spitting on one of the tracks here), aren’t new to this. They’re fresh off of a full-length collaborative effort with living legend Del the Funky Homosapien. The fact that the group’s beat-making can hold its own alongside an emcee of Del’s caliber speaks volumes about their skill and craft. The beats here are all well-formed, and what they lack in adventurousness they make up for in consistency and small, interesting production flourishes. Aside from the slightly misleading opener and first single, the emcee-led stomp “Right Now”, the album mines a pleasantly low-key vein of hip-hop–one that shifts in tone and mood without ever coming in entirely out of the left field. The dark atmospheres of “Swamper” and “Polyrhythmatic” and the light glacial keys of tracks like “Splathouse” and “Currency”, don’t need any bars over the top of them to make them compelling songs, (though that isn’t to say that they wouldn’t accommodate them nicely). Elsewhere, the influence of classic hip-hop touchstones is evident, subtly worked in here and there: both “24th July” and “The Canopy” channel something like classic funk, the Gene the Southern Child featuring “Made to Get Paid” is pure ‘90s commercial rap bliss, and “Suspended Animation” and “May Something” offer up an orchestral vision of boom-bap that bears far more than a passing resemblance to “Endtroducing”-era DJ Shadow.
Almost any track here could be trumpeted as one that represents this albums consistency: quality never really dips. Equally, however, it never really attains much of a notable peak either. The album is remarkably solid, and it’s to Parallel Thought’s credit that it sounds like an album, not a beat-tape: it’s just that the same low-key vibe that gives the album its likeable character makes it rather easy to fall off and drift out of focus with the music. There is little that jumps out and forces you to pay attention. It makes great background music. There are a couple moments of transcendence. Notably the excellent “No Silence” and the unbelievably smooth “Ice Cold” (featuring underground old-head Breeze Brewin’ of the Juggaknots), which show just how much these guys can do with a few choice elements. Though the album could do with just a couple more moments like this, it can still be pretty engrossing if you’re in the right frame of mind. If you come looking to be blown away, you might be disappointed: if you’re just after something purely chilled to zone out to, you could do a great deal worse.