Review Summary: Call me good boy, no, I'm god, boy.
Every release from clipping. since their debut has tweaked their sound ever so slightly as to not pigeonhole themselves into a single descriptor, and their latest album Splendor & Misery
is no different in that the band still appears determined to subvert expectations. The album comes following a period of inactivity for the band, as frontman Daveed Diggs garnered great success and acclaim for his role in the Broadway play Hamilton
. The influence this experience had on Diggs is quite apparent within the album, as Splendor & Misery
is a concept record that also operates as an experimental musical of sorts.
While there is a heavily implied narrative indicated throughout Diggs’ breakneck flow and dense wordplay, the lyrics and themes here are far from straight-forward, and are more abstract and complex than anything found on past clipping. releases. Diggs has only become more technically masterful as a rapper in the last few years, and the complicated, tongue-twister pacing that fans can expect in his delivery is here and accounted for. However, while the topics Diggs restricted himself to in the past were the blunt west coast hip hop staples of drugs, sex, crime, and money, (with the occasional dive into the political and socially conscious) Splendor & Misery
is the first clipping. project to have Diggs’ subject matter venture into science-fiction and also be as surreal and mysterious as the music backing it.
A synopsis of the album’s plot provided by the band outlines that it is set in the distant future and focuses on a former slave flying a cargo spaceship away from the dystopian world he knows and into the the uncharted territories of space. The synopsis also states that the music of the album itself is supposed to sonically represent the sounds made by the cargo ship, and that the protagonist apparently discovers what music actually is through said sounds. This is a very interesting way for any artist to convey the message of finding art in the resources at your disposal, no matter how unconventional, and it works splendidly on a musical level because of how uncharacteristically downcast the musical elements here are for the band.
What made the hardcore hip hop tropes of early clipping. have more bite than they would have with traditional production was the ear-splitting bursts of noise that escalated the aggression of the lyrics, and Splendor & Misery
opts to go in the polar opposite direction tonally. The album disregards basic hip hop song structure in favor of a collection of much shorter tracks that play out more similarly to scenes in a play than something abiding by any typical music formula. These tracks are crafted as uneasy and suspenseful minimalist soundscapes that incorporate old recordings of spirituals, ambient music, static, and odd found sounds that enhance the foreboding sense of tension and claustrophobic anxiety of Diggs’ cryptic space opera before culminating in the only track on the album reminiscent of the harsher era of clipping., the corrosively climactic “Baby Don’t Sleep.”
When your debut album specializes in harsh noise beats, one of the most challenging music genres out there, there is not any level much more extreme and dissonant that one band can reach for, (other than the unchanging static of harsh noise wall) so it is a very smart move for clipping. to expand their sound by exploring the other end of the spectrum on “Splendor & Misery” rather than remain stagnant for the sake of consistency. Fans may miss the harshness of content like Midcity
, but there is more than enough exciting ambition and experimentation here to compensate for it.