After a solid EP and a recent collaborative album with Del the Funky Homosapien, production/lyrical (though mostly production) trio Parallel Thought has finally come out with a legitimate full-length of its own. Though the group’s experimental history has presented plenty of opportunities for speculation about the mad genius driving its efforts, Art of Sound, the LP in question, manages to be paradoxically odder and more prosaic than the trio’s left-leaning history suggests.
Parallel Thought has specialized up to this point in using non-synthesized instrumentation and indulgence in looping pedals to create shuffling, jazzy beats that lope across their runtimes with no particular hurry. Whereas El-P, hip-hop production’s other reigning iconoclast, wields his synthesizer squalls like auditory buzz saws, Parallel Thought endeavors to create a far calmer mood. Let’s call it “Contemplative Stoner Lounge-Hop,” and place upon it the caveat that only a select subspecies of audiophile is likely find it engaging.
In case the album’s title hadn’t tipped you off, The Art of Sound assumes a right to its listeners’ attention as an a priori fact. Of the album’s 16 tracks, only three feature actual rappers. The remainder employ their brief runtimes (the longest maxes out at 3:30) in the service of gloomy, dripping beats that don’t feature much in the way of structure, but instead just slink onto, then off of the stage in a foot-dragging slouch.
For what it’s worth, I’d peg “Ice Cold” as the album’s standout track. Over typically unassuming instrumentals, MC Breeze Brewin’ mumbles verses that consistently lag a couple milliseconds behind the beat, making his gangster boasts of a stylistic piece with Parallel Thought’s laggard saxophone flourishes.
However, for the majority of Art of Sound’s runtime, Parallel Thought just doesn’t seem that interested in making hip-hop, as such. The album’s paucity of MCs and lack of forward momentum make it sound like the work of ambient electronic artists, rather than hip-hop producers.
Art of Sound places Parallel Thought squarely into the phylum of hip-hop practitioners who self-consciously refer to themselves as “artists” and somewhat pleadingly refer to their works as “art.” As is the case with many of their likeminded brethren, Parallel Thought has managed to forget that “art” depends at a very basic level on the calculated tickling of the pleasure principle. Experimentation, sophistication of vision and intellectual weight share room in that definition as well, but the dolorous self-seriousness of Art of Sound falters at its most basic level by simply failing to elicit any pleasures beyond the purely intellectual.
Hip-hop, from its Bronx-born inception to Rick Ross-ed turgidity, has depended upon energetic engagement with a crowd as its lifeblood. Parallel Thought tries to take the pleasures of hip-hop away from their Bacchanalian origins and into the realm of stoic contemplation. In the process, the group has made an album that violates one of the essential rules of the genre: it just isn’t that much fun.