CYNE: Water For Mars

Describing Water For Mars as CYNE's most satisfying collection to date risks implying that 2005's Evolution Fight and last year's double-shot Starship Utopia-Pretty Dark Things are deficient in some way. That's anything but the case—those superb collections hardly need defending—but Water For Mars is neverthless about as definitive a portrait of CYNE's progressive hip-hop artistry as has been released to date. But as cohesive as the material sounds, it's not, in fact, the product of a concentrated period of recent activity but a collection of tracks created over the span of about four to five years (roughly 2004-09)—even if every track was rebuilt, remixed, and rearranged in 2009. Regardless, the album finds the group's MCs, Akin (Akin Yai) and Cise Star (Clyde Graham), in peak form, and the production skills of Speck (Michael Gersten) and Enoch (David Newell) have never sounded tighter. Adding spring to the group's step is the occasional appearance of a collaborator, such as Daedelus in “Elephant Rome” (his presence felt in the song's acoustic guitar shadings) or Ape School in “Cise.” In addition, Mexicans With Guns and ROM contribute remixes of “Sleep” and “Fallen Stars,” alongside a remix of “Tide of Life” by fan remix contest winner Jay Appleseed (brain-addling vocal micro-edits in Mexicans With Guns' charging makeover help crown it the pick of the remix litter).

Rather than a single MC wearing himself out, CYNE's tag-team attack enables Akin and Cise Star to trade rhymes and pair up without exhausting themselves. As a result, most of the album's songs are packed to the brim with words (“The Raven,” for example, is wall-to-wall verses), all of which roll off the vocalists' tongues with ease (“Yes, sir, children of the lesser/ My life is like MC Escher” from “Fall Through Atlantis” is typical of the material's lyrical style). And with most of the tracks in the two- to three-minute range, Speck and Enoch likewise stuff a multitude of sounds into settings that are economical in the extreme. As always, the two bring the obsessiveness of molecular scientists to the material's sound—the shotgun crack of the snare rolling through “The Jux” merely one example of many—and tracks draw upon other genres (e.g., funk and soul in the ecstatic “Electric Blue" and “Nicers,” off-kilter experimentalism in “Beaten Boxes”) in addition to classic hip-hop. After a brief “Our Prayer”-styled intro, “This Year” kicks into gear with a funky pulse that's got summer breeze written all over it. Spiked by smooth jazz electric guitar accents and swizzling synth flourishes, the track initiates the album on a note of promise both literal and figural, a theme that the subsequent track, “Awakening,” carries forward in equally commanding fashion, and that will come full circle when the final track, “One Day... ,” appears nearly an hour later. As always with CYNE, the lyrical focus moves far beyond bling and turf wars, with personal and communal responsibility among the topics tackled—a case in point, “Wolf Blitzer,” which delivers a biting indictment of tele-media “journalism” (“Did you hear the mayday? / Britney Spears in trouble”). At the end of the day, though, it's all about the music, and in a perfect world, the funkily strutting “Fall Through Atlantis” would be booming out of car radios all summer long. Twenty-one cuts of CYNE in peak form: what could be better?

August 2009