Review: Renegade Brass Band – Totems

The rookery of talent that is Renegade Brass Band comes back with Totems, an album that solidifies their glitch-based hip hop into a sandstone-like foundation.

No, actually, that’s a lie. It looks solid. It seems to be a waterproof barrier, but come closer and the porous surface is highly permeable; the wear and tear of brass instruments has interconnected all pores. This doesn’t mean the rock is brittle. On the contrary, since it allows groundwater to flow freely, it will resist weathering, just changing enough over time, as it is required for any joint venture to survive in today’s musical battleground.

Ah, yes. Mixed metaphors. A strange choice for a review format, but fitting to the general atmosphere of Totems, a meaner album than 2014’s RBB: Rhymes, Beats & Brass, which on hindsight left more questions than answers. You won’t find finality in Totems, but you will find a band who has found their footing. A band that gets all the kudos everywhere but on their hometown, a mystery and a common trait in music.

But that’s a rant for another day. Totems has a healthy balance of pure instrumental joints and the Vexation freeflow stylings. Vex is an interesting rapper: he knows his old school urban poets, but won’t mind dropping references to anime, Commander Keen and showtunes/Young Frankenstein.  It makes for a richer style, allowing him to distil from different potions, concatenating a definite style.

‘Vicarious Visions’ conducts a seance with Henry Mancini, giving  swingin’ sixties flair to the suave-spy crowd. ‘All out’ and ‘Victory lap’ let the band pay tribute to the fresh latino jazz musings they swaggered with way back with ‘Barrio’. ‘Monte Carlo’ is Renegade Brass Band at their meanest: samples are on point, the brass flourishes, sometimes upstaging Vex‘s rhymes, which flow perfectly, like the unforgiving River Ouse.

All well-known tricks in Renegade Brass Band’s little bag of tricks. But as mentioned before in this rant, there are improvements. The pace is solid, every single track has its own personality and the band doesn’t shy away from experimenting with genres. Why should they? They are in control of their destiny and that’s something enviable. Considering that guest singer Gina Walters (Before Breakfast, The Bobby Pins, Screaming Maldini) has her finger on the pulse of current pop, it’s no wonder she uses the so-called Millennial whoop in the minty-fresh wonder that is ‘Peloton’. It’s another opportunity to push the brass band sound a little further and the gentle caress of the track works wonders amidst a flurry of punches and kicks.

A flurry of punches and kicks. Yes, again with the mixed metaphors. Perhaps not as well stitched together as the seamless integration of infinitesimal elements that everyone at Renegade Brass Band did on Totems. Spin this one and catch them live in their current form. You never know what they’ll turn into the next album.

Words: Sam J. Valdés López

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