Review Summary: Clams Casino marks his distinctive sonic territory and, most importantly, promises much more.
Clams Casino is a genuine oddity. Not that 23-year-old New Jersey resident and physical therapy student Mike Volpe is particularly eccentric in any way; rather, the entire concept behind his work making beats for an impressively high-profile group of MySpace-era rappers like Soulja Boy and Lil B stands out in the increasingly crowded field of hip-hop production. Volpe produces from his mother's attics, culls samples from file-sharing websites, and has taken a stage name from a Rhode Island seafood dish that he's never had. And his first mixtape, culled from instrumentals he's made for various rappers over the last few years and made available for free download this past April, is one of the most exciting records I've heard all year. Which isn't to say that it's one of the best
albums of the year; the simplistic synth lines and staid beats of "What You Doin'" and "Brainwash By London" sound clumsily amateurish, and even in the tape's best tracks, there's a sense that Volpe is holding something back. But this mixtape has something crucial that so many records of its type lack - it has a point of view.
This comes through loud and clear on achingly gorgeous tracks like "Numb" and "I'm Official", which are driven by thick, nearly lo-fi kicks and snares surrounded by dreamy, hypnotizing vocal samples. Indeed, Volpe's approach to sampling is a refreshingly abstract one; his splicing of Björk's "Bachelorette" on the stunning "Illest Alive" is an artful reinterpretation of that song's soaring melody, and its oddly affecting counterpart, "Realist Alive", takes Adele's "Hometown Glory" and drags it out until we're left with a beautifully syrupy concoction. These songs all have, in addition to their appealing sonic flourishes, a strong sense of structure that's lacking in some of the mixtape's less convincing moments. "She's Hot" is an infectious, bass-heavy thumper that merely hobbles along when it ideally would reach a satisfying climax. Occasionally, Volpe's sampling lapses into painfully obvious territory, as is the case with his anemic take on Janelle Monáe's "Cold War". Volpe simply takes Monáe's chorus and loops it over and over again, pairing it with a rather staid beat and robbing the song of its original vivacity. But when considering this mixtape's lulls, it's worth remembering that these songs are all, with the exception of the aforementioned highlight "Numb" and the strange closing untitled track, instrumentals for rap tracks. And so, although Volpe's music already stands impressively well on its own, this mixtape is, at its core, a hugely enticing teaser for what promises to be an illustrious career filled with sumptuous, bittersweet music.