CYNE: Wasteland Vol. 1

Every CYNE (Cultivating Your New Experience) release brings with it some degree of surprise and Wasteland Vol. 1 is no exception. In this particular case, there are many surprises, however, so many that the release puts some serious distance between itself and others in the CYNE discography, including its most recent releases, Starship Utopia (Project Mooncircle, 2008), Pretty Dark Things (Hometapes, 2008) and 2009's Water For Mars (Hometapes, 2009). Wasteland Vol. 1 is a cassette tape release first of all (available as a digital download, too) of close to an hour's duration. In contrast to previous albums' songs, the new one features six that with one exception are all in the nine- to ten-minute range. Not only that, but the songs are structured unconventionally in that they stitch together numerous brief sketches, most of them instrumental. As a result, the six tracks register more like phantasmagoric patchworks than standard tracks featuring verses and choruses—classic mixtape form, in other words.

The surprises don't end there: side A is referred to as “Speck Side” and B as “Enoch Side,” the labels obviously referring to the group's music producers Michael Gersten (aka Speck) and David Newell (aka Enoch). The recording also appears to include only Cise Star (Clyde Graham) on MC duties with Akin (Akin Yai) either sitting this one out or gone altogether—which scenario isn't clear, though we can report that the credits list Speck, Enoch, and Cise Star only. And the last surprise is that the vocals are distributed sparsely throughout the recording, with Wasteland Vol. 1 heavily focusing on the instrumental side of the CYNE equation. There is a story in play that involves one Laserteeth Killmore who's been “baptized in hurt / resurrected in flames” and teeth, oddly, form a major component of the narrative (an illustrated set of choppers adorns the inner cassette sleeve and two chapters are titled “Teeth” and “Braces,”) though no one need worry too much about making sense of the saga when the music is already rewarding enough.

Scene-setter “Chapter I: Enter Killmore” gets things underway with Cise Star's aggressive flow accompanied by an ominous four-note motif and a seriously deep groove. The track then establishes the episodic character that will characterize the album in general with CYNE channel-surfing through smatterings of melodic hip-hop, trippy jazz, ‘80s-styled electro, and heavy funk and with all of it animated by crisp beatwork. Vocals appear at the start of “Chapter II: Teeth” but, as in the first track, only briefly before the focus shifts to instrumental bits and pieces, and a similar pattern emerges in the other pieces. Enoch's side opens powerfully with “Chapter IV: An Introspection” and “Chapter V: Braces,” both of which feature Cise Star tearing into his verses with a doberman-like attack before the instrumental head-nod kicks in.

Like a conventional Master of Ceremonies, Cise Star introduces each track for about two minutes before handing the reins over to Enoch and Speck who then splice a wealth of sound (marimba, electric piano, acoustic bass, flute, congas, and harpsichord all surface) into the tracks' rich instrumental blend. Recognizable bits and pieces of samples bob to the surface of the crackle-heavy tracks—a looped snippet of Todd Rundgren's “Hello, It's Me” slips into view during “Chapter V: Braces,” for instance—but Enoch and Speck make the material their own with trademark CYNE wizardry and addictive beatwork. Wasteland Vol. 1 often plays like a primer on music in general, with the vignettes touching down on any number of genres—hip-hop naturally, but also funk, soul, electro, dub, even jazz.

Rising out of the swamps of Gainesville, Florida, CYNE's been active since 2001 and so has outlived any number of hip-hop outfits, to some degree by always being open to change and not repeating itself. What connects the dots is that certain qualities do carry over from one release to the next, first and foremost a well-honed melodic sensibility and a production style that's as soulful as it is organic, and consequently each new chapter feels like an always-satisfying variation on a theme. Though I wish more vocals had been featured on the release, Wasteland Vol. 1 is nevertheless vintage CYNE—even if it is a mixtape. Enhancing the release's appeal, Hometapes has given the release a lavish roll-out, with the cassette (and digital download code) supplemented with a full-color poster and a beautiful full-colour t-shirt (both designed by Justin Lovato).

January 2012