Review Summary: If you like hip-hop listen to this
Minneapolis; good, substantive hip-hop reliably comes from this city. Resident Doomtree hip-hop collective member Sims’ latest offering, More Than Ever, indisputably earns its title as his best work yet by riding a potent combination of wildly diverse, delicate yet bangin’ beats at the edge of stylistic innovation in modern hip-hop with the lyrical prowess and vocal command of a veteran artist with a message of strength that rattles around packed into those cramped electrical signals, waiting to incept your mind with the big bang by flicking complex waves of air molecules off some plastic into your ears.
More Than Ever has impressive sonic variety. Imagine irresistibly juicy spaceship-whip bumpers that drip the sun-beamed sweat of wide-eyed Icarus out of the sound system (turn it as far up as you can without distortion, chief) like shining golden paint beads into a field of warm, pink, force carrying sound rays with an intellectual lyrical razor. Now imagine some more mellow, introspective brain-candy of every flavor, carefully crafted to have your head orbiting inescapably around infectious lyrics and melodies. More Than Ever has no problem holding a listener’s attention throughout its intra-contextually perfect 47-minute duration.
This album embodies the culminate fruition of expertly developed stylistic progression that distinguished 2014’s excellent EP Field Notes, his first release in three years, from his still fantastic yet more raw earlier body of work. The thematic concepts found on Field Notes about rejecting the conventional yuppie and family-centered norms of adult life for a ruggedly beautiful and free-spirited journey as a rolling stone through the mysterious and delicious garden of urban bohemia, the yin-yang of the enormous mountains and trenches endemic to addiction’s endless odyssey through space, time, and mind, and knowing for a fact that you way fresher than all the squares and posers out there, are more refined and expansive on More Than Ever. The budding, more crisply futuristic and electronically diverse seasoning characterizing the production style that first appeared on Field Notes also feels fully developed into its true potential on this album.
Listening to the album is like being invited during an introspective DMT trip into the carefully constructed aural externalization of Sims’ mind; so much extraordinarily deep content is packed into a grippingly fascinating, bizarrely surreal, and perceptually extradimensional stream-of-consciousness experience that feels endless while you’re listening but somehow passed all too quickly when the album has ended. Each subsequent experience with More Than Ever yields new discoveries of cleverly hidden nuggets of awesome esotericism between the lines of its songs. Each line is chock full of vivid imagery and cleverly memorable adages, enhanced by the lyrical synesthesia, complexly layered syntax that demands some more effort from the listener yet yields concordantly better rewards within its subtleties, and expertly chosen metaphors and cultural allusions that Sims employs throughout the album. It feels like this album has given me a ridiculous number of eerily relatable life mottos; Sims has summed up in words and music how I feel concerning a great many concepts. His impeccable and versatile flows are woven so fittingly tight around incredibly nuanced and appropriate beats, all rolled up for your maximum pleasure in the album’s addictive aesthetic that I personify as the smartest, wisest, illest, highest, flyest, hardest, inimitably wild stylin’, self-sufficient, most empathically and emotionally mature and sensitive yet undeniably unfukwittable street-smart badass in the room. The ultimate shame about this album is that not many hip-hop fans know of Sims or More Than Ever, especially given that I feel this album is just waiting to helplessly infect everyone in the large audience that it deserves. It strikes me as very accessible to all sorts of hip-hop taste palettes. The saving grace here is that the down-low identity of this album and by extension its aesthetic, ever grinning triumphantly behind a pair of dark, circular, blue-rimmed shades, makes it all the more satisfying to be one of the chosen few lucky enough to have encountered this incredible work of art. Another plus of this album’s lack of ubiquity is the ease with which you can blow your friends’ minds by introducing them to it.
I’d argue that objectivity or “an objective perspective” for reviewing music doesn’t exist at all. Thus, I must acknowledge the personal bias that contributes to this album’s perfect classic rating for me personally. Unconventional sounding and intellectually engaging hip-hop is perhaps my favorite niche of music, and I also deeply identify with Sims’ (and many other musicians’) perpetual and adventurous struggle to maintain a satisfactory balance as an addict. Drugs are a huge topic on the album, and as a fellow psychedelic speed freak whose ridden ups and downs for years, I feel that Sims has done a phenomenal job of encapsulating the detailed and vast nature of what it’s like to live such a life. If I still listened to the crazy part of my brain, I’d say this album goes as far as to qualify as a contender for being one of those ~surreal~ albums that a solipsistic psychotic (for the non-philosophically or psychologically literate, here you should think of a schizophrenic who believes all of reality is created in their own head) would think describes his own life so eerily well that it couldn’t possibly be anything other than a product of his own mind.
Songs like “A Bad Flying Bird,” “Icarus,” “OneHundred,” and “What They Don’t Know” hit the speakers with the force of a prime dopamine flood into the synapses, carrying the slick and confident swagger of addictive grandiosity and competence that dopaminergic stimulants induce. Others, like “Brutal Dance” and “Spinning Away,” take you to the darker, more abstract yet thrilling nature of what happens when you overdo, crash, or can’t stop taking such chemicals. Showing the profound personal vulnerability and omnipresent sense of wonderment only truly understood by those who’ve been spun and psychotic, who’ve lied awake endlessly staring between the atoms in their eyelids at ineffable paintings of mind as the brain weaves seemingly impossible 6-dimensional webs of ideas and visions at 1000 miles per hour, or who’ve had the darker elements of their subconscious percolate to the surface in an inescapable and disturbing self-confrontation, songs like these manage to capture the precise balance of dysphoria, awe, and quasi-masochistic eagerness for a fascinating if uncomfortable mind explosion that characterize threateningly intense highs. These types of songs succeed thematically by capturing the same paradoxical nuance as a horror movie; the experience of watching horror movies is intrinsically dysphoric yet there is a gripping, suspenseful thrill that keeps you inexplicably coming back and keeps you from closing your eyes all the way or turning it off during the ever-interesting and important scary parts.
Sims’ versatile critical lens effectively examines other topics, including love on “Shaking in My Sheets,” a well-thought out and executed treatise on the incomparable joy of having a committed, intimate relationship with a highly compatible significant other. Some songs further explore the irresistibly curious rabbit-hole of drugs (and life as a whole, let’s not falsely limit ourselves here), detailing experiences like picking up the pieces of yourself and moving forward with confidence and optimism after a difficult, negative experience. Or, as the goosebump-inducing and vivid “Flash Paper,” a title which appears to my trained eye as a symbol for blotter, the emotional and moving “Voltaire,” and the heavily psychedelic and lyrically esoteric “Gosper Island” accomplish with flying colors, Sims shows the inherent beauty of human existence and all its wondrous absurdity, especially detectable when viewed through kandy-kolored kaleidoscopic dream goggles. There is no weak link or bad song on this album, and it flows exceptionally well from start to finish with a high short- and long-term replay value. More Than Ever takes you on a journey through yourself, bursting out of the gates with serious and persistent blood-pumping energy, then transforming through introspective doubt, fear, and contemplation into an examination of the darker corners of reality, before reaching a conclusion of optimistic self-acceptance, awe and respect for the powerfully dangerous and tantalizing beauty of the universe, and a feeling of triumph that kisses the ground in relief at having weathered the worst of the storm on route to an unknown yet promising future.