When you think of hip-hop, you almost certainly don’t hear the swells of an orchestra in your head — and when you think of turntables, your mind probably leads you back to the ’80s heyday of the form, instead of toward any of the various underground practitioners currently taking it to new areas. Guys like, for instance, Rob Swift, whose latest effort, The Architect, brings beats to the classical setting and makes two wildly disparate styles of music sound like they were always born to play together.
The Architect is a dense, moody record, piled high with analog hiss and dark, urgent orchestral swirls. It takes a deliberate step back from the harsh sonic lines drawn by most modern hip-hop records and plunges back into the muddy vinyl depths, drawing out refreshing dynamic expanses and begging to be played loud. It rewards the added volume, too — you’ll hear the strings and scratches you’re looking for at any level, but crank the volume, and you’re sucked into a cavernous world of odd percussion, vintage digital sound effects, and layers of skittering, indescribable noise. It ain’t a pop record. But is it art? Absolutely.
This isn’t a reach-out-and-grab-you kind of album; I went in eager to hear it, and it still took me quite a few listens to really absorb and appreciate everything Swift’s doing here. For that reason — as well as the fact that it’s coming out on Ipecac, the label run by Mike Patton, who’s great at putting out “great on paper” projects that ultimately kinda disappoint — I think more than a few listeners will be inclined to dismiss The Architect as a promising gimmick that doesn’t really deliver. Be patient, though, and these songs will deliver; in fact, I’d wager this is going to be one of the most purely artistic albums we’ll hear in any genre all year. Miss it at your own peril.
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