Milled Pavement Records' Goose Bumps series of hip-hop/electronic music compilations comes to an end with a bang: The fourth and final installment has 66 tracks featuring 96 different artists over the course of four albums (previous comps have clocked in at 19, 21, and 44 tracks, respectively). It's easy to see why label head and Goose Bumps curator Moshe is ready to be done with this — the sheer work involved in selecting, slotting, mastering, and promoting all of these tracks (there is a video for each one on Milled Pavement's YouTube channel) is mind-numbing.
And, at times, the compilation can be too. Trying to listen to this in one go is a four-hour-plus time commitment and while Milled Pavement's dedication to its dark and brooding aesthetic is a great move for the label's continuing viability (see our related story here) it can make a compilation of its artists somewhat monotonous and, frankly, nerve-wracking. It's impressive, though, that this sheer number of tracks and artists can be mashed together into something this cohesive and consistently interesting.
It's an impressive primer on the current state of underground hip-hop, as well. Drawing from artists all over Europe and the United States, just googling the individual artists that catch your attention and exploring their work could occupy you for weeks. Hip hop is dead? Hardly. But neither is what you'll hear here similar to Eminem, B.o.B., Usher, or any of the other "hip-hop" artists that dominate the Billboard and iTunes charts.
There are no party anthems here. Nobody's throwing hands up in the air. You're unlikely to find cooing female backing vocals or a straight boom-bip beat. Rather, there is a pervasive cynicism and irony, a nasal twang of smirking delivery, hauntingly morose attitudes. There are blacks, and shades of gray, and maybe some blood red, but few bright colors of melody.
These tracks often cut right to the quick, though. The explorations of the human condition here show us sides of ourselves we'd rather not see, but speak the truths of the downtrodden in a way that commercial hip-hop, with its boastful and bombastic excess (okay, there's still some of that here), can't touch.
It's impossible in this space to explore all of the individual tracks and performances in the way they deserve, but here's a quick look at the four albums and what you should listen for from artists both near and far.
THE INTRODUCTION Ancient Mith & Mattr's "Berne Dinner" is a well-chosen kick-off for the disc and the compilation as a whole. Mixing the Denver-based Ancient Mith with the Swiss-German Mattr creates a great chorus of sorts centered around a three-note repeating phrase. Mith sets the tone for the record with the line "I only speak English, but my smile is universal."
THE DOUBLE-TAKE MC Homeless and Zoën's "I Take a Long Walk" contains the line: "I'll cut your dick off and put it in your mouth." Note that MC Homeless recently played Belarus, claiming to be the first indie rapper to perform there.
BEST TRACK FROM THE OTHER PORTLAND "Basic Shapes" from Portland, Oregon's Storm Chase features nice elements from the acoustic guitar, trumpet, and a slew of strong MCs. The melodic play-out in the finish is terrific.