Friday, July 20, 2012

The summer lives forever

Listening to the latest effort from Winnipeg hip-hop duo The Happy Unfortunate, I can't help but think of A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders. I know that comparing THU to one of the giants of the rap game in ATCQ may seem overblown or like a reach, but bear with me.

When ATCQ debuted with People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm in 1990, they came out of the gate swinging and between Ali Shaheed Muhammad's inventive, crisp production and some tight rhymes on cuts like "Bonita Applebum" and "Can I Kick It?" helped birth the daisy age. At it's root, Instinctive Travels... was just a fun record. They quickly followed their debut with 1991's darker The Low End Theory, an album that mined some of the same jazzy production but which also found the group exploring darker themes (date rape, the ills of the music industry) lyrically. Two years down the line, Midnight Marauders found ATCQ striking a deft balance between 'fun' songs and lyrical complexity - in other words, fully-realized maturity.

The Happy Unfortunate are now three albums into creating their own catalog (I'm not counting the beat-tapes they've released sporadically) and they appear to be following the same trajectory, just reversing the gaps between albums. 2009 saw their debut Stand Up Or Fall Down and two years later came No Time To Sleep.

Now with July Never Dies, the talented pair demonstrate a similar maturity in both their content (failed relationships, patience and perseverance, long-distance love) and their production. Soulful vocal and horn samples float around for the first few seconds before the boom-bap snap of the hi-hat and snare kick in on "Yesterday's Fool."

I don't think the yesterday they're talking about in the lead-off track is '89 (particularly considering the ages of The Happy Unfortunate), but a lot of the beats will take you back to the daisy age with the jazzy, gentle beats found on this baker's dozen of cuts. A harmonica that feels like a Stevie Wonder sample on "Mistakes To Be Made," the floating synths on "Long Shot," and the rolling piano line on "Through The Day" all have that old-school vibe without sounding copycat and in service of laid-back beats, they're perfectly paired with Wilson & Caneda's relaxed delivery.

 The title is also perfectly paired with the collection of tracks - it feels like summer has been caught on record in a way that few albums or songs have since DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince dropped "Summertime" back in '91. The Happy Unfortunate will officially drop July Never Dies next Friday at the Urban Forest in the Exchange (just across from Market Square on 93 Albert St.) with a party that features Saint Kris, M-Kaps and Len Bowen. Don't sleep on the record (which you can preview below) or the show. Pre-order July Never Dies on their Bandcamp page.

No comments: