CYNE: Starship Utopia
CYNE: Pretty Dark Things
So wonderful to have CYNE back again, and with two new collections at that. Available on CD and coloured vinyl (500 copies), Starship Utopia serves as a perfect complement to Pretty Dark Things. Compared to 2005's Evolution Fight, Starship Utopia finds the Florida-based group toughening up its breezy sound (the participation of guests ROM, Deceptikon, Asshole Parade, Stres, Seven Star, and Soarse Spoken may have something to do with it). Even so, CYNE's signature melodicism is still fully evident on tracks like “Starship Utopia,” “Loopholes,” and “Hurricane Song,” while the group's expansive sound turns harder-edged in the Speck and Crum remix of “Six Shooter,” for instance, and “Sex Tapes,” where double-speed rhymes do backflips over an electro-acid hip-hop backing.
One of the most appealing aspects of CYNE's sound is the balance the group strikes between the biting, politically-charged flow of Akin (Akin Yai) and Cise Star (Clyde Graham) and the sparkling tracks sonic alchemists Enoch (David Newell) and Speck (Michael Gersten) roll out behind. The horn-kissed head-nod that drives the MCs musings in “Floatin'” is a classic example of the group's style, and ample examples of the producers' artistry surface, such as the cascading vibes accents and the crisp snare cracks in “Montana” and the combination of Rhodes and funky boom-bap in “Catharsis.” Lyrical themes in the disc's eleven songs touch on God, hope, unity, and music's liberating power. In “Kill The Music”, a powerful ode to hip-hop's indomitable spirit and an indictment of industry-rooted conformity, the MCs enumerate toxins (“Rap City TRL: that killed the music”) that threaten to poison the genre yet fail to do so (“Wait, hold up, it's not dead never”). “Elemental” conjoins a clockwork funk groove and motivational rhymes (“Look at your life / Be what you want to be / See what you want / But strive after what you need”) while “Loopholes” promotes discipline and peace (“I carry a grudge but I hold it in love / It allows me to stay strong while I envy the dove”). The group burns through eleven cuts in thirty minutes so hold on tight when the needle drops.
The term “next-level” also comes to mind when listening to CYNE's Hometapes debut Pretty Dark Things. Certainly the level of invention displayed is dizzying in sixteen tracks that are, as on the sister release, gritty and powerful; here too the MCs adopt a “take no prisoners” approach where they defiantly proselytize (“Truth in hip-hop the reason why I'm here”), challenge “doodle-assed rappers” to step up their game, and call out the type of “Radiant Cool Boy” who'll “stand for nothing but criticize everything.” Topics include poverty, global warming, materialism—even epistemology (in the ethereal “Never Forget Pluto,” Akin and Cise Star muse upon its banishment from the planetary pantheon). In “The Runaway,” the blare of a muted trumpet lifted from some old be-bop track collides with slinky guitar playing that might have come from an African juju album, while “Calor” uses an arresting percussion-only backing (congas, mallet instrument, snare, kick drum) to get its message across. “Escape” deploys sparkling soul-funk as a springboard for the MCs' somersaults while “Fuzzy Logic” serves up a classic CYNE strings-kissed backing for the rappers' rhymes. Elsewhere, we get the clubby throwdown “Elephant Rome,” a pairing of funky hip-hop beats and Spanish guitar playing, and the old-school electro-Afro-funk of “Excite Me.” The shorter CYNE's tracks get (many of them in the two-minute range), the more packed they are with ideas, and squeezing sixteen diverse cuts into forty-five minutes makes for one heady listen. Hard to beat seventy-five minutes of new and unadulterated CYNE: “Cultivating Your New Experience” all over again.