After a decade of making music, three critically-acclaimed instrumental mixtapes and a whole slew of production credits, New Jersey’s Clams Casino has finally got around to releasing his debut album proper.
If you’re familiar with Clams’ previous work, the opening quarter of an hour will hold few surprises. All the hallmarks of the cloud rap style – chilly atmospherics, spaced-out synths and beats so slow they appear in danger of grinding to a halt altogether – are here in abundance. In addition, Lil B, the MC with whom Clams first rose to prominence, features on four of the first six tracks.
A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples, also both frequent collaborators of Clams’, crop up in the first half of the record. However, Clams can perhaps feel short-changed by the shifts they put in. Whereas Clams pulled out all the stops and elevated their records with his work, they don’t seem as if they can be bothered to fully return the favour. Rocky in particular is pretty much phoning it in and, as a result, the track on which he features, ‘Be Somebody’, fails to hit the heights of previous Clams and Rocky projects, like ‘Wassup', ‘LVL’ and ‘Hell’.
It may seem an odd point to mention for someone who’s never put out an official album before, but Clams Casino is so synonymous with his particular brand of hip-hop that it’s no surprise to hear him go a little off-piste in the latter half of the record. Artists such as Kelela, Sam Dew and Mikky Ekko provide vocals for a collection of tracks which are much more pop-focused than anything we’ve ever heard from the producer before. It’s an admirable attempt, but these tracks are a little bland in comparison, and it reinforces the idea that Clams should perhaps stick to what he knows best.
The biggest curio, though, is penultimate cut ‘Ghost In A Kiss’, which features Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring. Although Herring does also rap (under the guise of Hemlock Ernst), he’s better known as the vocalist in the Baltimore synth-pop outfit, so his turn as a Leonard Cohen-style gruff lounge lizard is unexpected to say the least.
While ‘32 Levels’ is a strong and enjoyable album, especially for a debut, it still has to be chalked up as a missed opportunity. Mixtapes, EPs and guest productions are still, rightly or wrongly, seen as a precursor to a full album, and there’s nothing on this release to suggest that Clams Casino has ascended to the next level. In its own right, it’s further evidence of Clams’ special talents but for those who have followed his career closely, it’s hard not to think about what could have been.
Words: Joe Rivers
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