CD Review: Above/Below - 2 Sides
Eighteen songs is a lot. You may not think so in the grand scheme of things - my iPod has 14,605 songs on it. However for anyone who’s ever bought a CD or record and especially for anyone that's tried to record an album... 18 is an extreme amount of songs. In fact, this may be our longest review yet! Guess what folks... Above/Below just raised the bar on you.... 2 Sides hits on all cylinders from start to finish.
Is Above Below a hip-hop group? Is Above Below a jazz ensemble? Is Above Below a rock band? I'll tell you one thing, 2 Sides will not answer that question. They run the gamut and make no apologies for it. With a 7-piece band and an MC at the helm would you expect them to keep a constant style? There are 2 many personalities there.
The lyrics on this record are constant. Vocalist Gabe Chandler, (AKA MC Stat), spits lyrics like sunflower seeds all over this record till they're piled up in a neck high heap. Most hip-hop is usually this way but when you’re doing hip-hop with that old school "double time" delivery you have to write even more lyrics and this can make them a little hard to keep up with. Primarily the subject matter deals with a sociopolitical issue but before you go running in the other direction because you "don’t like political bands" listen to the songs "Socialist" and "Profits". These songs are clever, catchy and current... that's the 3 C's of a good pop song. There are some lighter hearted subjects on the record. "Fly in My Soup" is a story about Gabe punching out a smart mouthed waiter.
You've got 7 more people rocking consistently on this record and in some cases that can lead to some self indulgent soloing and songs that last for millennia. Above/Below is not all about that. They use the guitar and bass to move the songs along from part to part and the horns to accentuate the changes and punctuate the statements the band is making musically. Drummer Jonas Sanchez drives this bus using jazz riffing, funk high hat and rock n' roll beats to keep everyone together. This is a mature band. They all know the part they have to play and they are proud to do it. None of them show ego on the recording and it makes the listening much more enjoyable.
Mixing all these elements together can be difficult thing to do in the studio. The rhythm guitar tends to sound far away and while the reverb sounds cool there are points when it should punch more. The horns and vocals are right out front as they should be but that baritone sax should sound rounder and more full as it is it sounds almost like a synth. One of my favorite parts of the sound of the album is the turntables. It's not something I'm used to having seen Above/Below many times live. They could've taken this guest star and pushed him up to the front to make the point that they're doing hip-hop music but instead they use it as a texture as an added bonus rather than selling point. The sound of the record has the proper amount of polish on it; this is hip-hop/pop/jazz after all. Everything is audible all the time and that's not an easy thing to do with all those sounds.
2 Sides, 18 tracks, millions upon millions of words and riffs. This is a huge testament to Above/Below's song writing ability and the diversity of their talents as musicians. Get this recording and listen to it over and over again because you will continue to find new things each time you do.