Dystopian comparisons are rarely accurate. There’s a pressure to evaluate art on a scale of ‘vibrant’ to ‘sparse’, the latter being where a dystopia is the go-to application of certain sounds or compositions, typically anything metallic sounding.
Despite its rusted exterior, Clipping’s second full release album features not a whiff of apocalypse, you’ll find no sleeper cell references because ‘Splendor & Misery’ is closer to a space-opera, in fact.
Cinematic in its scope, the album runs like a screenplay with character developments, recurring themes, tragedy and, finally, resolve. Weaving throughout the record is this haunting original composition called ‘Long Way Away’ that balances these distant but overawing baritone voices that resonate with a similar menace of Johnny Cash’s ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’.
If we think about the conventional five part dramatic structure for a second, at six minutes long and three tracks in, ‘All Black’ is all the exposition the album needs. It tells the tale of a young, ambitious MC first from the perspective of a supporter lauding his talent and lambasting the corrupted industry, then from the outsider’s viewpoint highlighting the delusions of backpack rappers that are self-aggrandising enough to believe they belonged in the roll-call of Kendrick’s ‘Control’ verse. It boasts a theatrical charisma that MC Daveed Diggs has most likely equipped off his stint from broadway smash hit ‘Hamilton’.
The production, helmed by dual composers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, make use of field recording techniques only instead of chimes and sampled radio alarms, the sharp clangs of breached hulls and airlocks closing are the content used to create these paranoia inducing and dissonant instrumentals. What makes ‘Splendour & Misery’ beckon for repeat listens, bar Daveed Diggs torrential flow, is how concise and dense the record is. It flows like a satellite in orbit, emerging over horizons witnessing serene beauty only to encounter disruptive asteroid belts moments later like the three ‘Interlude’ tracks where Daveed spits over broken and static-laced connections.
‘Air It Out’ and ‘True Believer’ are nimble and cerebral takedowns of the American hypocrisy surrounding ideals of liberty. These tracks represents the step into the delayed climax of the story which embodies the final third. You might call it bad pacing, but when has the final episode of a sci-fi saga not been its most sought after and dramatically crammed?
The whole album fluctuates from satisfied isolation to profound loneliness sometimes even twice in a track. Irrigated by the initial context of ‘All Black’, tracks like ‘Break The Glass’ trigger the denouement of the record. Sinister bars slice through harrowing crunches coupled with a refrain that carries the infinite pressure and callousness of the cosmos.
That said, what kind of story ends with such hopelessness? This is an album, at least to my ears, about duality, about being driven by the misery to earn opulence. ‘A Better Place’ embodies this fact as Daveed takes a complete U-turn on his emotional kamikaze run to discover that being lost is only a temporary situation - in space and hip-hop.
Words: Will Butler
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