Review Summary: The retro soul of The Fugees and Lauryn Hill lies at the heart of this eclectic mix of styles, branching trip-hop, dubstep, jazz and RnB with style.
With only a single track sampling having been released by A/T/O/S (A Taste of Struggle), the duo of Truenoys and Amos, before their self-titled album was released, it was hard to predict much of what they had to offer. Remixes by big-name dubsteppers Skream and Commodo backing the original track, as well as its release on Mala's Deep Medi Musik label clouded predictions even further. While there is some dubstep to be found here, it's hardly traditional, and it shares its influence with hip-hop, trip-hop, jazz, soul, and RnB to create a rich genre-mixing album that may be the beginning of one of the best production-vocal pairings ever.
A/T/O/S has no trouble carving out their own sound, but they wear their influences on their sleaves. Many of the tracks that lean closer to the hip-hop side of the spectrum find themselves with one foot in the past, creating the kind of low-key hip-hop infused with RnB that only Lauryn Hill at her best was capable of pulling off so smoothly. These are the tracks that Amos's vocal work shines most on, punctuating the meticulously paced percussion and stripped-down atmosperics with her shifting rhythmic deliveries – sometimes floating airily over the top of the more well-plotted beats with half-sung soulfulness, other times giving a swinging, start-stop delivery that defines the rhythmic side of the track as well as the percussion. And yet, despite the many earthy, retro moods present here, there are connections to be made with the vocal-centric trip-hop of Portishead, Tricky, and Massive Attack, all brought on by the eclectic instrumentation and traditionally electronic elements that work their way sublty into the tracks. When the more modern production finds its way into the classy rhythms found here, it never changes the core vibe of the album - which always retains its retro, warm soulfulness.
Despite A/T/O/S's obvious influence from classic acts in hip-hop, perhaps the easiest comparison to make is to Submotion Orchestra. Like the jazzy, trip-hop-influenced dubstep group, A/T/O/S blends genres well. Sometimes it's obvious where a track's heart lies. “Run” is dubstep, with its half-time swing, dominant low-end, and mid-range growl. “Hey” is RnB-tapped hip-hop, with Amos giving her most traditionally singing delivery of the album. “A Taste of Struggle” is atmospheric trip-hop, with the hazy vocals that reverberate back and forth among the ambient, moody production that continuously hangs in the air. But more often than not, it's difficult to pin a track down that simply. Most of the tracks that feel like traditional hip-hop owe their timing much more to dubstep. “What I Need”'s soulful minimalism and syncopated percussion loses what little controlled structure it had to chaotic, cascading jazz keys, while “Nowhere” is a swirling, off-kilter track without much to hang onto for rhythmic guidance besides a simple, repetitious jazz piano loop.
And yet no matter what style Truenoys is working with, there's Amos right alongside it, seemingly capable of fitting her delivery perfectly to just about anything. It's not just her delivery that's noteworthy, but her lyrics as well. Far from wordy, but deep, and conscious, lyrics such as “"Takin' that load off your shoulder / You need to be sober to hold her / Fearless in every way you say / But you're scared of the next day" flow incredibly smoothly across the many flavors Truenoys creates.
has huge appeal for multiple audiences, but rather than there being something
here for everybody, everything here holds appeal for the multi-faceted audience that the album should capture. It's on a label that might let this fly under the radar for the hip-hop crowds that would adore it, and the label's audience might find it a little too distant from what they're looking for to fully let its quality sink in. But it would be a huge mistake to let this pass by, and with the right attention given to it, there's no way it will fly under the radar for long.