by Jeff Milo
Zebehazy Summer starts streaming online Tuesday, at midnight - find it/hear it - here.
Local hip/hop duo Passalacqua (Mister, a.k.a. Bryan Lackner and Blaksmith, a.k.a. Brent Smith) put out an initial batch of songs on the web back at the start of the year for those who burrowed the bandcamp channels. But this record feels like their proper debut, a tasty ripening (under the summer sun's rays) for a project that started from a 'let's-see-what-happens' impulse.
Their self titled EP had more space to it, more of an ambient breakbeat trip; easy to sway to but not necessarily bumping and not shying away from a cool minimalism, or slower, pensive grooves. It was built upon the lyricists trading off self-analytical recaps of their first 24-years on this planet, in this city, and with music (be it hip/hop, funk, soul or blues). There was the steady strutting beats under horn-heavy jazz and buzzy organ-moaned soul from producer Dr. B and the auxiliary scratches of DJ Prime Minister, but aside from that - this was essentially just an introduction...
Having spent the summer in the studio of their Woodbridge neighbor, Ernie (Erno the Inferno) Guerra, Passalacqua's recordings began reflecting the swift and dynamic evolution of, not only the pair's collaborative writing, but also that of it's live show - an electrifying extravaganza of confetti, background singers, cardboard masks and a strange charm that seemed to stare you down until you gave in and loosened-up along with the music.
That energy is augmented by Guerra's penchant for dance music, galvanizing the coaxing elements from a variety of percussive styles from funk, to old school hip hop or even discoey-flares. Foraging through his vinyl, Guerra booms in vibrant bass, blazing guitars, spacey, sloshing organs and bombastic brass while Mister and Blaksmith dash their vocals with some distortion and loop them, sparingly, for added atmospherics.
"Ms. Washington (Bridge Card Hustle)" has such a stronger, more instantaneous snap to it's beat that it's like night-and-day set against the steady, more chill shuffles of their debut. They're also significantly bolstered by female background singers ("the Lovely Babinis"), a cameo from rapper Ben Miles, and a smoking sax solo from a Specs Howard Professor.
The album was further bolstered by producer Justin Weiss (Jroq Productions, / Vintage Kings studios). So with all that behind them, the vocalists (Mister/Blaksmith) sound clearly just as jolted, ostensibly inspired by their eureka-summer of finding just-what-exactly-they-have, together, as a hip/hop duo, but also, now, flexing their voices for melodious choruses and not backing away from playful pop hooks ("Bridge Card") or the nuanced decadence of saucy early 80's funk motifs ("Own Thing.")
The key to it all, as can be seen intheir Throwback Media videos , or any live set, is their energy, their theatricality. So, the truest test is whether you can capture these certain inaudible energies - like, can you see, listener, from your headphones, when they're eyes widen upon certain inflections, or do you feel it, when they quickly recover with a huffed breath at the end of the lyric, can you hear them jumping around... ?
Hip/hop can often be the antithesis to the "wall-of-sound" worshipping rock n rollers who, in sanctifying the dynamic intricacies of some Pink Floyd or Beatles album, opt for a more private and ultimately passive experiece. ...Does this, then, feel live? Capture the live-show experience? Yeah. If, just at least, compared to their first record...
But, really, it's a graceful clash of too many other elements to be merely deemed hip/hop, (-setting aside two of it's overtly titled tracks "Rapraprap's" Part 1 and Part 2). Guerra opened his attic windows and whatever breezed in, funk, dance, rap, -it added to the chemical reaction stirring between the three of them.
As it plays, their synchronicity as a trio stitches tighter throughout the album, culminating with "Sunset City," where it's indecipherable to tell who's reacting to who; Guerra's punching in the echoing brass loops to reflect the flourish of their chorus, yet Blaksmith/Mister sound as though their tight-rope stepping lyrics would trip without the heart-beat boom set off by Guerra.
And after that, then, the closer, "Own Thing," is really just a party.