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Posted on August 13th, 2015 (2:00 pm) by Justin Goodman

In the liner notes for his 1978 Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Brian Eno wrote of ambient music that “it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” In other words, an amorphous genre attempting to be both elevator and gallery. So it's interesting that this Duchampian impulse to surround us in art – something now bourgeois – pairs as well as it does with the always radical and somewhat anarchic hip-hop. Madlib, J. Dilla, Oh No, and the Alchemist (although the latter two are better outside of Gangrene). These producers try to fit between to, as Sean put it in March, “make visible the unseen sociopolitical injustices pervading society.” Injustices unabated, it seems. A fact which makes Howiewonder's back-to-back release of collaborative Factors and independent Untitled look peculiar, pleasant, and indifferent.

It wouldn't be very chill (one of the Canadian producer's self-assigned tags on Bandcamp) if it weren't indifferent though, right? Jazz trumpet and muted cymbal, smooth and leisurely on “swanker” and “ouch,” give the illusion of thinking and pacing on a starry street; the occasional nature sample, the birds on “vibe” or the crickets on “smoothmove,” blurring street and dirt. And, despite this insistence on sitting in the corner unassumingly, Howiewonder manages to tranquilize a sample of Biggie's guttural voice in “bigpoppa.” There's an obvious irony, given that the song sampled from is “Kick In the Door.” This is perhaps my biggest concern. To layer a filtered Biggie onto an otherwise entirely mellow track seems, at best, a snarky homage.

Yet homage is everywhere, and not all of it positive. Kendrick's verse in “Control” being my go to example. What sets Howiewonder apart with Untitled and Factors are tracks an average of 3 minutes long, a trait closer to his psychedelic influences (obvious in his earlier the.lo.fi.tape, its two tracks running 12 minutes apiece) than the hip-hop (his other albums as sectioned as J. Dilla's 31 track Donuts). It feels as if this double release wants to bridge the gap between the abstract peace and pragmatic hardcore of his origins, and fails by welding the two at the wrong joint. Between wobblingly repetitive tracks with names like “feelings,” and contracted-feeling ones named “projects,” I'm left wondering what should be gotten. Does Howiewonder love Biggie, or want to snuff him out beneath his chilly indifference? The variety clashes. The true value, as is always the case with the indifferent, is lost.

Track Listing:

Factors

  1. imagination (w/ianewing & tylerbeck)
  2. where'ditgo (w/ackryte)
  3. yii (w/prof.logic)
  4. smoothmove (w/ephrem)
  5. feelings (w/submerse)
  6. luciddreams (w/muneshine)
  7. usedtolove (w/eltrain)
  8. ouch (w/1618)
  9. kuhltowonder (w/v.b.kuhl)
  10. likeajungle (w/swum)
  11. snowflakes (w/braedonbailey)
  12. everyday (w/illclinton)

Untitled

  1. 1234
  2. swanker
  3. tru
  4. vibe
  5. bigpoppa
  6. likethis
  7. projects
  8. perfect
  9. deepwaters
  10. woah
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

60 / 100
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