A Short Collection of Clever Dystopianism
“Why don’t we take a little time to talk about how wonderful life is in the new world?”
This new world, a concept given voice through Wyatt Cenac’s on-the-nose narration, is the backbone and overarching theme of L’Orange and Mr. Lif’s new EP, The Life & Death of Scenery. In this “perfect world,” Mr. Lif imagines a society in which culture has been completely banned. Books have been burned, records have been melted, paintings have been thrown over the city walls; only the voice of the Radio Host (Cenac) prevails.
Though structured around an interesting concept and containing many well-constructed songs, The Life & Death of Scenery stumbles by aiming to bite off more than it cares to chew. The strongest cuts presented, which coincidentally also feature the strongest production, are those that most specifically relate to the suggested narrative: “Five Lies About the World Outside” and “A Palace in the Sky.” Several of the other songs on the record feel loosely related to the thematic material at best, which wouldn’t necessarily be deterrent if Cenac’s skits weren’t so overstated. As the flow of the record is entirely halted each time that “The Perfect World Radio Hour” interjects, this disparity becomes brashly apparent.
On “The Scribe,” Mr. Lif enlists the aid of frequent collaborator Akrobatik. His flow is well-paced and his lyricism is deft; however, while the lyrical content presented is craftily boastful and culturally relevant, it does not seem to relate to Lif’s dystopian universe. “Strange Technology” dwells in internal rhyme, once again enlisting Akrobatik for a study in hot-potato wordplay and traded similes. Unfortunately, it again neglects the underlying theme.
Mr. Lif and L’Orange tap into their most engaging artistic spirit in their most laid-back tracks. The trumpet sample that tickles the distant regions of “Antique Gold” hooks the listener from the get-go, and a guest spot from youngster Chester Watson cements the strength of this cut (though, again, it foregoes the setting of the “perfect world”). It is not until the listener reaches “Five Lies About the World Outside” and “A Palace in the Sky” that they find material that truly pays heed to the presented narrative. This is notably successful via L’Orange’s pounding mid-tone, constructed within modulating piano loops and boom-bap drums, and Mr. Lif’s attention to message. Note Lif’s tale of hierarchical rule in “A Palace in the Sky,” as he draws the album to a close with a quick return to his original course of thought.
Hip-hop of late is oft defined by plinky piano riffs, affected synthesizers and treble-heavy hi-hat rhythms. Yet L’Orange continues to pull influence from beat-makers of the ’90s and early ’00s, crafting a sea of jazz samples and vintage drum set loops on Life & Death that are punctuated by record crackles and vinyl scratches. And while the EP lacks any memorable chorus or hook, this is not the aim of the art. Mr. Lif and L’Orange release their music through Arizona’s Mello Music Group, a label that has signed artists including Oddisee, Pete Rock and Kool Keith. This roster is indisputably one that values the art of groove over that of melody, and this distinction is made clear with L’Orange and Mr. Lif’s most recent release.
The Life & Death of Scenery misses the mark when it comes to its true agenda–a concept record, it isn’t; an articulate message, it lacks. However, when viewed as such, it’s a strong representation from two artists who have maintained a notable presence in independent hip-hop for years, defined by their retro instrumentals and strong wordplay.