Since the first time I heard Gorilla Voltage until now, I can’t say that I have vocally expressed a positive opinion of them. That isn’t to say that I don’t have positive opinions of them. I do. In fact I have recommended Ape-X to quite a few people who I thought had the sensibility for it. But when these people would ask me what I liked about it I always came up with the same answer- I don’t know. It’s rare that their music drums up a thought or opinion that doesn’t have “on the other hand…” attached to it. This, of course, is the result of music with blurred genre lines and eclectic influence. I don’t know the actual influences of the members of Gorilla Voltage but I bet I could guess a few albums in their CD binders around the turn of the last century (cough. Crazy Town-cough cough). But still, the “Crazy Republican meets the SUPER crazy Republican” odd couple charisma works. The “different but not SO different” dynamic the two have adopted seems as deliberate as their “16-8 and 8-16” song structures. It’s not hard to imagine a conversation like this happening, let alone being an unreasonable suggestion- “Ok, so you’re gonna be the crazy flow, off the rails, somebody stop this train rap guy!”, “Yeah, and you should just be very pronounced, rapping with sluggish annunciation making sure to emphasize every syllable with extra care guy!” But it works. Often times for some more than others (I often wonder if ClockWorC is in fact the better MC or if his style is just more forgiving than Mr. Grey’s which leaves every miss struggling to be forgotten as they ooze into your ear). So there’s good news and there’s bad news. And if the headline were to answer the question, “Did you enjoy The Lost Tapes?” it would likely read in big block letters, “I DON’T KNOW”. Stop the presses.
So first, the bad news- I don’t think that I will be listening to this album very regularly, if at all.
Let’s start this autopsy with an examination of The Lost Tapes most unfortunate entry “Concrete Sea.” It’s not hard to imagine the late great MC Eyedea sitting back in the void and laughing at the notion that “Rhyme saying’s fucked!” when you consider that a song like “Concrete Sea” might be the kind of thing Mr. Grey was thinking of when he uttered those words on the Ape-X standout “Grind My Gears“. So it is also hard to imagine why I had any expectations for the rest of the song when it’s title is a play on words that’s so on the nose a dermatologist tried to pop it. ZING! So on the nose that Mucinex wants it as a mascot. POW! So on the… Anyway, in a concept where, and pardon the pun, depth should be the main concern, it’s surface level obvious when lyrics like “I’m smoking sea weed” don’t have a punchline and do nothing important over this worthy beat. A seemingly endless list of ocean words just bounce off the chilly string samples and boom-clap breaks before standing up, dusting off and running back for more. Why lyrics that sound like the kind of thing writing exercises were intended to stop from happening were ever extracted from that dead freshman’s dusty Intro To Poetry journal and recorded in the first place is something to be pondered. And a tortured aspiring poet eating a bullet really is the perfect metaphor for this entire album’s unintentional theme- Undercut potential.
Now, the good news- I will absolutely be adding songs from this album to my regular rotation.
If I need to pick one song from the album to justify this choice it would be “Lie”. Gorilla Voltage production tends to be dense and, without it necessarily implying a bad thing, overproduced. Generally speaking, an approach that can often lead to beats that aren’t so much an array of different colors but are more so an overabundance of paint on too small a palette all smeared together into a muddy brown spoonful of indistinguishable slop. It’s beats like the one used for “Lie” that make that thick sound work. And in this case, it works wonders. Classic funk guitar and stand out sampling give the beat a personality as one becomes part of the whole. Ferocious raps fit snuggly on top of this catchy little banger and everyone who showed up seems excited to be there. Mr. Grey wasn’t in school that day and I found it unfortunate because I would have enjoyed hearing what his verse would have sounded like. Part of his appeal for me is his choice moments where he kicks into gear and disengages from his standard flow. This feels like a track where he wouldn’t be able to resist and that feels like a missed opportunity. And across the board my only real complaints for this track are all missed opportunities. I just wanted more. The beat cut off so abruptly (something that happens on a lot of songs on the the album that reeks of rushing and did or didn’t do any favors depending on the song) I could only imagine what could have been done if someone got the urge to show off a little. If only we had gotten the inclusion of a bridge, for example. Something to build up and drop out creating anticipation in the moment before the beat kicks back in and a third verse brings us home. It makes me wish this wasn’t used for the album but revisited and completed for a future release. But it’s here now, and I will enjoy it for what it is, because what it is is great.
And “Lie” isn’t the only thing The Lost Tapes has to offer. “Go Big” is the first track on the album to really lean into the sound we’ve come to associate with Gorilla Voltage. Heavy guitars and horns deliver enough momentum for even Mr. Grey to wake up and bring some heat. The production on “Apezilla” is reason enough to give it the time of day. A simple drum loop and cinematic sampling create a score that would be right at home accompanying the lyrical stylings of those masters of the urban Martial Arts, the Wu Tang Clan. (WU!) And lyrics tonally laden with giddy irreverence spit heat atop a beat reminiscent of a late 90’s, early 2000’s hip hop standard make a Cold Cold World a little less fridged.
It’s hard to not forgive certain criticisms of the album because there’s a defense built right into the idea of a “director’s cut” release. But fading out a beat a few bars after the lyrics stop just feels too lazy. And even the already chopped can still benefit from an extra slice of self awareness. Not everything that wasn’t good enough for the initial intended project should be automatically considered good enough for a “lost episode” anthology album, either. You want the songs to be worthy or at least have purpose. If the quality isn’t up to speed the chosen piece should be included to say something about the band or have some historical value. Where they were at the time. How they’ve evolved. The inclusion of some of these songs makes you wonder whether or not Mr. Grey and ClockWorC have a firm grip on their talents and shortcomings and you don’t want people thinking that deeply while listening to the songs you rejected. It’s obvious why many didn’t make the cut the first time around, but the fact that they were subsequently included on any official release will remain a mystery. Unstructured and underdeveloped songs make the album feel rushed and too much like the forgotten recordings they are. And it really is unfortunate because a healthy dose of TLC could have otherwise made this effort feel like a singular piece of completed work. The tracks never felt too scatterbrained to gel and a motivated spirit could have produced this into a pretty legit album or a really legit EP. So if you’re already a fan, listen to The Lost Tapes, pick your songs and move on. If you’re not already a fan and hope to become one then you’ve got catching up to do. But this isn’t for you. Or maybe it is. I don’t know.
- Fuck Shit Up
- Cold Cold World