All My Angles Are Right
Listing all of the hip-hop artists that have come and gone since CYNE (Cultivating Your New Experience) issued its first recording—2001's African Elephants, to be exact—would take up the better part of a day. But the Florida- and Portland-based outfit is not just a survivor; if anything, its latest release finds the group in amazing form, creatively vital and its sound fresher and more on-point than ever. For the longest time a quartet comprised of MCs Akin (Akin Yai) and Cise Star (Clyde Graham) and beatmakers Speck (Michael Gersten) and Enoch (David Newell), CYNE is on its fifth full-length, All My Angles Are Right, a trio, with Akin absent from the release. Despite that change, the CYNE identity remains intact, its sound not having appreciably changed as a result: Speck and Enoch are still two of the best crate-diggers in the business and the rhymes by Cise Star—“a conscience for your headphones”—are seriously strong. And with some songs as indebted to pop (“Heaven is a Hologram”) and rock (“Embers”) as hip-hop, the material is capable of appealing to a broad swath of listeners.
CYNE's classic cut-and-paste sound is evident from the moment the opening track, “Attics,” appears until “Firefights” brings the album to a close forty-three minutes later. Things happen quickly in CYNE's universe, with most of the songs lasting no longer than two to three minutes, and each cut bleeding into the next gives the album a kaleidoscopic quality. An early standout, “Avians” sparkles in the warm, swoon-inducing backdrop Speck and Enoch create for Star's funky flow. “Tears For Uriah” similarly dazzles, with Star's rapid-fire delivery sweetened by a ravishingly soulful arrangement.
Speck and Enoch's gifts are on display throughout, with beats complemented by stirring, sample-heavy blends of guitars, vocals, strings, and keyboards. As with past CYNE releases, the listener has a tough time deciding whether to attend to the MC's flow or the tracks' luscious instrumental design. During “Fine Prints,” for example, the listener is captivated when the song alternates between Star's vocal and a gorgeous “Better late than never” vocal sample (the strings-heavy instrumental coda is beautiful, too). “In Between Kingdoms” slows the tempo slightly, with Star's voice pitched lower and the backing graced by a haunting guitar texture.
The relevance of the songs' subject matter comes through repeatedly. Plato's Myth of the Cave (from The Republic and addressed in “Plato's Cave”) has never been more relevant than it is today, given its description of people chained to the lower part of a cave and mesmerized by projected shadows they've mistaken for reality (substitute shadows with TV and computer screens for contemporary applications). Star also digs into the history books for “Tears For Uriah” with lyrics about Uriah the Hittite, the soldier in King David's army who's mentioned in the Second Book of Samuel. Adding to the album's richness, lyrics reference cultural figures as disparate as Cyndi Lauper, Keyser Söze (The Usual Suspects), the cult film They Live ("Sunglasses After Midnight"), and Thelonious Monk. On a collection whose music is as vibrant and multi-hued as its cover image, CYNE once again lives up to its rep for “creating significant hip-hop music with a message.” And let's also take a moment to give credit to Hometapes, CYNE's home since 2008, for being the label means by which Pretty Dark Things, Water For Mars, Wasteland Vol. 1, and now All My Angles Are Right have found their way into the world.