High Elders – Forest of Pencils

Openings and conclusions are important aspects of any piece of linear art. From Kurt Vonnegut to the Velvet Underground, openings are fundamentally necessary to establish the themes and routes the work is going to take. It is fitting therefore that High Elders’ opening track pays reference to the tool that has aided their formation: the internet.

Released by Little L (previously Little League)Records, High Elders are made up by “veteran MC” Gentle Jones and experimental producer Auxiliary Phoenix. The growing experiments in hip-hop have clearly had an effect on the two members and their influences are worn on their sleeves. Fans of El-P’s production are likely to enjoy Phoenix’s techniques here, bringing explosive and erratic synthesiser based layers, whilst Jones’ flow comes close to that of Why? or Aesop Rock, bounding over but still accompanying the instrumentation underneath. The glitchy aesthetic lends the record a certain form of genrelessness, unable to adequately be labelled as Birdman‘s Riggan Thomson so hates. Yet, the album really lends itself to this musical era known as ‘the internet age’, taking in electronic experimentation with an eye to the past.

Unfortunately, Gentle Jones doesn’t really shine through however, becoming yet another part of the mix rather than distinguishing himself as a separate force from his counterpart. Often the vocals become submerged by the production too, his words lost by the heavy eclecticism of Phoenix or just devoid of depth and meaning. As an instrument however, his flow provides some great moments as in “Run Sinner Run” where his voice takes on various effects and becomes increasingly choppier. But overall, Jones is a much less appealing feature of High Elder’s sound.

The album closes on a track that rearranges Paul William’s ‘The Hell of It’ from Phantom of the Paradise, a cult hit just as one day this group may become. “We’re only getting started” states Auxiliary Phoenix and for that I am glad. There is room for improvement but for now, High Elders are just another group experimenting in their fields and helping in the change to expand hip-hop’s boundaries.

6.6/10

Listen and download here: http://littlelrecords.bandcamp.com/album/forest-of-pencils

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