Review Summary: “A big nothing-burger of background music”
I’ve seen Tangram loosely described as “sound collage” by a few people on the internet and it’s hard to argue with that descriptor, even if it does feel grossly reductive. The Philadelphia-based rapper and producer known as Material Girl dabbles in a lot of genres. From classical to funk to hip hop to jazz and so much more; Tangram is a smorgasbord of musical delights waiting to be unpacked. It’s also a bit ‘challenging’ - a word I’ve grown less fond of over time, as it’s rarely ever true and sounds hyperbolic. At first blush though, it’s easy to dismiss this as aimless and obtusely inaccessible. Listeners won’t find much in the way of conventional album flow here, but after a few plays it’s impossible to not fall in love with how gorgeous and engrossing some of these moments are. And Tangram is very much an album of moments
Never content to rest on its laurels, Tangram is an ever-changing beast. Songs will sometimes just abruptly shift towards a completely different tone and mood, which takes a bit to adjust to. Take the first 1:40 of “Platypus”: it sounds a bit like a lost Boards of Canada track until it transforms into this melancholic ambient joint with a wavy, modulated background vocal croon that wouldn’t sound especially out of place in Burial’s catalog, before finally taking one last sharp turn in its dwindling minutes and morphing into some of the absolute smoothest lounge jazz I’ve ever heard. Seriously, I could listen to this s
hit on loop for an hour straight and never get sick of it. It’s sublime. Then there’s “Flood”, another absolute gem of a track with one of the most downright beautiful, life-affirming choruses I’ve heard in all of 2020 (I hesitate to say it sounds a bit influenced by gospel), which quickly turns into one of the album’s darkest and most emotive moments. And “Swoon”, a track featuring some woozy, disjointed violins that coalesce into this very romantic, classical sound, that eventually arrives at a weirdly ethereal, robotic-sounding climax. All of this throws you for a loop until you start to settle into the sound, only to be served “On My Way Out”, a closer so perplexingly normal
by comparison to the rest of the record that it seems out of place.
It can appear a bit jarring at first, flitting from one headspace to the next, but Tangram is a special album if you give it time. It’s cliched as hell to say “it has something for everyone”, but it really does. Maybe not everything will resonate with listeners, but a melting pot of ideas this potent is bound to appeal to each and every person who hears it in some way, even if just in a few fleeting moments.