Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Groove Theories: Open Mike Eagle / Dark Comedy

Open Mike Eagle
Mello Music Group
by Sean Morris

“I heard Kendrick Lamar’s Batman and Miley Cyrus likes 
to treat a microphone stand as if it’s a large black man.”

This pitch-perfect couplet from Hellfyre Club’s “Elephant in the Pressroom” sets off Open Mike Eagle’s scathing monotone, delivering one of the best rap verses of 2013. But it’s another track from Hellfyre’s Dorner vs. Tookie album, “Qualifiers,” that serves as a proper introduction to Mike Eagle’s incisive wit and stunning delivery. The beat consists of little more than four guitar licks over smooth boom and rattle, Eagle’s melodic flow doing the heavy lifting. Sing-rhyming “GoldenEye” with “Kobe Tai” is just one of this humble-brag anthem’s many delights. 

The fact that Dorner vs. Tookie and Dark Comedy, Eagle’s latest solo release, can count the same song as one of its highlights is both help and hindrance. “Dark Comedy Morning Show” sets the overall tone, doleful strumming and industrial atmospherics gradually close in on solemn proclamations like “I swear we’re living John Lennon songs.” It’s emo-hop’s answer to Electro-Shock Blues’ “life is funny, but not ha ha funny” line. But there are plenty of traditional guffaw-inducing punchlines to discover on Dark Comedy:

“they make the flyest orthotics
and make decent movies out of Alan Moore comics”

“never march through Korea Town in a Madea gown”

“when I pass gas it sounds like a fax machine”

Deftly heckling everything from spoken word to Honda Civics, the lyrics are worth pouring over like a good book you can’t stop quoting. Pop culture references are gleefully obscure and random (Michel’le, Jonathan Lipnicki). Comedian Hannibal Buress hurls insults on “Doug Stamper,” and erudite loon MC Paul Barman materializes out of nowhere at the end of “Thirsty Ego Raps.” Though a feature from Hellfyre’s Busdriver or Nocando would have been welcome, Eagle’s mindful voice is consistently captivating.

There are almost as many producers on Dark Comedy as there are songs, and though cohesive, the monochromatic beat progression detracts a bit from the experience. Most of the production places too much focus on the first word of the album title and not enough on the second. G-funk throwback “Golden Age Raps” and buzzing, insistent “Doug Stamper” are the only offerings that would elicit wry grins if separated from the clever MCing. The ambient turn on “Very Much Money” is a wonderful fit for Eagle’s lamentations, but this pensive template is repeated one too many times by album’s end.

“A History of Modern Dance” features a chilling screech and clatter straight out of Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein, providing a much-needed jolt to the proceedings. But even when the album’s sound lapses back into Adult Swim bump leftovers, we get verbal gems like “the ego is the dirtiest of private parts.”  That “we’re the tightest kinda” hook on “Qualifiers” accidentally becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studying Open Mike Eagle’s words are more of a joy when their accompaniment doesn’t feel like a chore. Between Dark Comedy, Nocando’s grimy Jimmy the Burnout, and Busdriver’s upcoming Perfect Hair, Los Angeles' Hellfyre Club’s “turn your brain on” ethos is significantly brightening hip hop’s future.

Listen/purchase Dark Comedy on:

Zestyverse's resident Music Geek Sean Morris is an SF Bay Area native with a photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture. He is a graduate of UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television, a former Los Angeles Slam Team member, part of the collective Art 4 A Democratic Society, and a music blogger for The Owl Mag. Find him on TwitterSoundCloud, and YouTube.

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