Many of us first heard Clams Casino peaking out from behind some of hip-hop’s more blog-centric figureheads – Soulja Boy, Main Attrakionz, and, most notably, Bay Area rapper Lil B. Take B’s track “Motivation” off of his 2011 Angels Exodus, which appeared as opener on Clam Casino’s own self-released Instrumental Mixtape earlier this year. Casino’s dystopic static-filled atmosphere seems to crumble around the Based God’s leveled verses, outlining with narrative fragments his general motivations while the thickly languid tenor vocal sample strikes out from the ashes. Regardless of your opinion of Lil B, it’s hard to deny the sentiment that Casino’s production doesn’t at least dwarf the MC. The richly textured instrumentals are complex and varied enough that’s it hard for them not to swallow up anything keeping them grounded. It became apparent on the aforementioned mixtape that Casino’s beats weren’t really meant to be squashed by rhymes, but stretching themselves past any sort of solitary focal point.
Much like a slew of other trending electronic musicians including label-mate Balam Acab, Clams Casino builds his intricately layered tracks around sampled vocal centerpieces – a dynamic that can rightly clash with anyone else trying to make the tracks their own. It certainly might have proved a smart move to play bedroom mercenary to the internet’s more charismatic hip-hop personalities for exposure’s sake, but there’s a striking melodic quality dripping with a sort of bombastic emotionalism that makes Clams Casino’s arrangement style sit more comfortably alongside electronic’s more dramatic and narrative-based artists, regardless of its hip-hop leanings. It’s the type of stuff that plays more to naturalistic and transcendent greater-than-human affects. Like post-rock, perhaps. But there’s a consistent and colorfully singular atmosphere to Casino’s material that keeps things from becoming glazed.
Rainforest is Clams Casino’s first proper release, appearing on the Tri Angle imprint, which is continuing to prove itself home to progressive hip-hop based artists such Balam Acab and oOoOO, weathering past its illy timed arrival to the larger indie landscape last year as a major part of the minor witch house fad. In any case, Rainforest is the perfect forward progression for Clams Casino to mark a relative place as one of the more interesting producers this side of not-quite-hip-hop. His trademark peak and valley layering around boxy crawling drum programming is still mostly in place, but the tracks feel more spacious and purposeful with the arrangements given more room to breathe.
“Natural” starts things off and quickly marks its place as the most beautiful piece Casino has managed across his seventeen or so song arc. A syncopated crash of delay brings a wave of glimmering sampled harp down around a buried kick and mournfully slow snare that seems to hit with a peak of reverence every time it lands. I can’t think of an artist since the obvious go-tos – Burial or James Blake – that have such an identifiable style of vocal sampling. Where Burial’s vocals are ghostly and distant or Blake’s are warped and scattered, Casino’s are full-bodied and softly immediate. But there’s a placement and genteel laziness to them, despite being huge and hugely affecting, that’s all his own. “Natural” sports a throaty alto that wavers in and out of the foreground around bursts of whitely colored static like the sound of sharply cresting waves or failed radio transmissions.
In truth, “Natural” is perhaps the only track that sits staunchly beside anything that came off Instrumental Mixtape. “Waterfalls” supplies a more abstracted and lapping vocal and “Treetop” is built around an urgent synth sequence, dropping the voice. “Drowning” is a breathy affair with a digitally deteriorating piano loop and a heaving vocal that slides in and out of the bass register. “Gorilla” is a culmination of sorts with a careening vocal buried in effects, sounding like some tearfully wounded animal while static builds and releases, finally making way for a resounding crescendo before ebbing into silence.
Rainforest is an EP and it does leave the listener wanting. It works as a sort of mini album, finding enough variable direction to point toward a future template for Clams Casino with a myriad of aural directions when he does decide to craft a full-length. For now though, he sits alongside a handful of promising forward-thinking instrumental hip-hop producers that still have yet to make their definitive statement, and he sits near the forefront of that group.