Subtleties Of The Game
label: galapagos4
production: royce, dj whitelightning.
year of release: 2003
1. The Elephant
2. Mistress Black
3. Prostheticass
4. Smelly Face Grill
5. Don't Go!
6. The Drive
7. Shoot'n The Curl
8. Purple Puppies
9. Jukin
10. Oil Spill
11. Quest For Fire
12. Secret Secrets
13. Good Friday
14. I Know You're Nervous
15. Elevation Evaluation
16. Liquid Architecture
No, this isn't the Detroit native, Eminem associate Royce Da 5'9"; it's a band from Chicago who managed to secure a place on Galapagos4's roster despite the fact they're not a Hip Hop act. The difficult thing with Royce and, by default, "Subtleties Of The Game" is that while I can confidently tell you it's not Hip Hop, I can't actually tell you what it is. The varied influences behind the music seem to range from funk to hip hop to trip hop to jazz and far beyond.
"The Elephant" pits vocalist Qwel's raps against the band's live and loud percussion, and not much else. The presence of raps isn't a regularly recurring theme throughout the album, but this is a good place to start, with its rough-recorded vocals and changing rhythms. It's instrumentation, however, that makes up most of the album; tracks like "Mistress Black" find a funk that's somewhere between classic and futuristic while "Good Friday" is melodic in a Zero 7, almost-ambient way.
Sung vocals accompany the charged instruments on a number of tracks, and Qwel's emotional, melancholic delivery adds a depth that some of the instrumentals don't quite have. "Purple Puppies" is one of the best examples of what Royce are capable of when they combine their instrumental innovation with Qwel's wavering delivery; familiar sounding chord changes in both the music and the vocal melody make this a very cool track and one of the album's standouts. Other tracks which further illustrate Royce's seeming inability to limit their musical spread are "Prostheticass" and "Secret Secrets"; the first sounding like something N.E.R.D would come out with, and the second being more easily comparable to soft-rock groups such as Semisonic.
There's not much filler on "Subtleties Of The Game", although a number of the instrumental tracks have the potential to lose your attention more than the tracks with vocals. Qwel's raps make a brief re-appearance on "Elevation Evaluation" amidst shimmering and echoing instruments (which somewhat characterise one of the consistent themes of the album), but Royce return to their instrumental form to close out the album.
The very fact "Subtleties Of The Game" came out on Galapagos4 should encourage those who know the label to consider picking it up. If the label has compromised its hip hop totality in releasing "Subtleties…", it has maintained its history of putting out interesting and original music which draws on numerous, eclectic inspirations. This album is a good introduction to a band who have taken from a broad spectrum of music, and have found a way to make coherent and fresh music of their own.
review: cornerstone
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