Review Summary: “This is an album about low living, sucking up dust and discovering quickly that the truth is unforgiving”
First things first- his name is pronounced chess-key. While I had to add him to the Sputnik database myself he is not completely unknown to Sputnik. Those who have heard the title track on the album Vessel by Dark Time Sunshine know the sound of Ceschi’s distinctive, warbling singing voice. They probably don’t know that Ceschi is making massive waves in the underground hip hop scene, as both a record label operator and a musician. On the label side, Ceschi is the co-founder of the New Haven based Fake Four Records, home to indie-rap stars Dark Time Sunshine, Awol One, Factor, Myka 9 and Sole (who abandoned the anticon label he helped found and partly owned to join Fake Four). While only just founded in 2008, Fake Four seems to be the hottest label in the underground right now. As a musician, Ceschi seems to inhabit many different genres- hip hop, folk, even metal. According to the album credits, he plays the guitar, violin and glockenspiel (whatever that is!), along with several others. But the real reason he is turning heads is because his sound deserves an adjective that is rarely truly warranted in music: original.
The lyrics play an extremely important part in The One Man Band Broke Up. Not only is the writing clever and well done (and features plenty of obscure references I am not nearly cultured enough to understand), but as you may be able to tell from the title of the album, Ceschi has a very distinctive point he’s out to make. In hip hop, a common lyrical theme is glorifying “the grind,” the many months and years the rapper in question had to spend refining their craft and trying to get exposure before they made it big. It is so ingrained in the genre that often times wack MCs are accused of skipping over that grind, of not paying their dues to hip hop itself. The general assumption is that if one really grinds away, pays their dues and has some talent, anyone can become the next big rapper. What Ceschi examines throughout the course of this album is what happens to the people who slip through the cracks, the artists who work at their music with so much effort and with no recognition that their very lives are slowly grinded away into nothing. He does this by addressing the whole album to a character named “Captain Julius,” who is the One Man Band that “broke up,” or in other words committed suicide. This is a concept album, but it is done with an extremely light touch- there is no plot here, no overbearing story line. Instead every song is addressed to Julius, and deals with what he did and his emotions. It makes the album an extremely interesting listen, because every song embellishes on this theme of a man whose life was ruined by a dream he would not give up on and a world that couldn’t care less.
As a hip hop head (and a fairly young and not very well listened one at that) it is hard to describe the beats on The One Man Band. I know that a bone crushing boom-bap album it is not. There are lots of live instruments on this album, and while the lyrics are dark and depressing, many of the beats have a happy, I’m-going-back-to-the-70s-and-I’m-taking-hip-hop-with-me type feel to them. A harpsichord sound forms the backbone of “Hangman,” and straight up piano chords anchor “Half Mast.” The production is basically the exact opposite of Dark Time Sunshine. Where they chose to use synths and electronic sounds, Ceschi and a German producer named DJ Scientist chose a more organic, simplistic sound. In fact much of the production has more in common with David Bowie and the Beatles then hip hop of any kind. This is the record that Sage Francis’ disappointing 2010 album Li(f)e wanted to be.
To all my fellow rap addicts reading this, I have something to confess; only about half the tracks on this album resemble anything that could be called hip hop. But have no fear- this is clearly an album aimed primarily at hip hop heads, because the tracks that aren’t hip hop are only half as long as the ones that are. And every single track on the album is worth listening to lyrically; even the most die hard rap fan should appreciate Ceschi crooning hilarious lines like:
“Most of us tried to jump off rooftops and threatened to slit our wrists at 14.
Only some succeeded and missed out on the late nineties’ underground rap scene.”
While I would’ve like there to be more hip hop oriented songs myself, I far and away prefer this kind of filler to the skits that usually plague hip hop albums- at least this is music with interesting lyrics, even if I’m not a huge fan of folk (or whatever this is) musically.
Another interesting thing about The One Man Band Broke Up is Ceschi’s delivery. Not only is he constantly switching up his flow, from Slug-ish (yes, I just said that) to breakneck speed but he is also constantly switching from rapping to singing, to the point where it’s hard to differentiate which one he is doing. Generally when rappers try to incorporate singing into their delivery the result is a complete train wreck, but Ceschi stunningly pulls it off, as he is extremely adept and confident at both art forms. The end result is that Ceschi keeps the listener’s attention in a stranglehold throughout the entire album, so that he can properly drill his lyrics into the listener’s skull.
The guest MCs are yet another strong point of the album. On “Hangman,” a bunch of rappers I’ve never heard of (and neither have you) tear it up pretty hard, with lyrics that reinforce the mellow atmosphere of the album. Mic King especially has a huge presence on the song, and Ceschi’s brother David also drops a pretty good verse (and sounds, surprisingly enough, a lot like Ceschi). However, the only time Ceschi is ever arguably outshined is “Long Lived the Great Short Lived,” where Sole raps a couple of fantastic and suitably dark verses.
As great as those songs are however, “Bad Jokes” is the true masterpiece of the album. In every way, this is the most fully realized song on the album. Musically, it features a beautiful, Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque electric guitar and by far the most interesting drum loop on the album. The chorus is catchy, and the lyrics are about as heavy as they get on any album:
“Every crease on his face was a fault line
That looked like it had been drawn there at the beginning of time
But he was only 45 when he died
With no family left behind
Just instruments and a mic
And the story goes that he cried like a baby
As he tied the noose waiting for someone to come and save him.”
While a very good album, it is not without its flaws. Some of the beats aren’t very impressive and get tiresome after a couple of listens. Ceschi is no MF Doom as far as rhyme scheme goes- he rhymes “become” with “cum” at one point but there is enough going on with the rest album that it is easily excused. Ceschi also doesn’t have as much presence on the mic as many other rappers do; he makes up for it in his delivery but he hardly ever does one of those dramatic pauses that can turn a good verse into a fantastic one. Lyrically he also occasionally falls short; as cool a word as it is, there is really no excuse for using “ubermensch” more then once in an album this short. However, the fact that the album is short I feel is not a flaw, as a concept album like this could have easily gotten bogged down if it was longer.
In hip hop, MC’s can usually be traced almost directly back to an older rapper they especially emulate. Try listening to Masta Ace, then Eminem and then Earl Sweatshirt to see what I mean. There is nothing wrong with that, but it makes Ceschi special in that he really has created a completely new sound, and in so many ways. For fans of alternative hip hop (or any kind of music really), this album is a must as it may be one of your favorite albums of the year and it represents the beginning of a possibly new direction hip hop could take. So listen to this album. And in the process you can feel good in the fact you will be making sure Ceschi doesn’t become just another Captain Julius.