(Slow Motion Soundz; 2011)
By Colin McGowan | 6 December 2011
Anyone who has followed G-Side’s output over the past few years knew the moment might come when the Huntsville duo’s sound would grow swollen, and, like a dying star, begin to collapse in on itself. iSLAND is that moment. There’s a lot going on here—live instrumentation, multi-tracked vocals, airy abstraction, crooned hooks, soft jazz, ever-transforming beats—but a dearth of purpose around which the elements can congeal. On iSLAND, G-Side and their collaborators seem so preoccupied with ballooning their aesthetic that the aesthetic cannibalizes the personality of its creators.
Clova and ST aren’t breathtaking rappers, but they have, in concert with the Block Beataz and a handful of other Hunstville producers, developed a sound so distinct they’re invaluable to the formula. For all of its adventurous production choices, ST and Clove pulsed at the core of January’s The ONE...COHESIVE, curbing its interstellar bent streetward. It’s a credit to their abilities as emcees they were able to commandeer beats like “Y U Mad” and “I’m Sorry,” ensconced in clouds as the songs were, and fashion them into street rap burners. But this doesn’t often happen on iSLAND, where the production is so towering and overdone—like skyscrapers with rhinestones around their windows—that it overwhelms the rappers. De-facto opener “Cinematic” is so impressed with how many voices and sounds it can layer upon itself it devolves from a serviceably rollicking mission statement into a joyless exercise.
Stretches of iSLAND suffer the same malady. I’m not really sure what the hell “Luv 2 Hustle” is trying to accomplish, but it could do without the heavy use of Auto-tune and seasick undertones. And poor Cleveland rapper Stalley sounds like a spiritual refugee on the bloated “Gettin’ It.” One element of COHESIVE that didn’t work was its intermittent use of uninspired R&B hooks, which return for much of the middle portion of iSLAND. So, we get a slew of hooks that sound plucked from Pink Friday (2011) outtakes, which tend to stymie whatever momentum is built within the verses.
Which isn’t to make iSLAND sound like a dismal failure. As is G-Side’s wont, the final four tracks are tremendous. In wake of the glossy pap marring the album’s middle, the moody thump of “Our Thing” is an oasis, and closer “Look Up” might be the record’s best track; ST and Clova sound much more comfortable twisting their flows around horn stabs than ornate electro-mush. Also: a few experiments work. The hushed opening bars of “Atmosphere” serve as a jungle gym for ST’s nimble flow, and “No U in Us” is a blissfully warped take on Houstonian riding music.
iSLAND might be the first G-Side record that doesn’t accomplish its ostensive goals. Perhaps it wants to be a southern take on a post-Yeezy production approach, but in its attempt to create gonzo renditions of beauty, it sometimes sounds like a garbled mess. It’s noble, if not entirely listenable, and, for a group with such a consistent drive to evolve, an effort upon which to build in 2012.