I think we have to start talking “supergroup” when we talk about True Neutral Crew, don’t we? Even though we’re only two EPs in – this one, and last year’s #MONSANTO (I’m not really counting Brian Miller’s releases as simply True Neutral under this umbrella, that’s a little bit different but still highly recommended listening) – TNC is now garnering some far-flung and well-deserved attention. They were the #9 best-selling hip hop album on Bandcamp one day after #POPPUNK was released. Impose Magazine included the release in their best music of April column. And their lineup for this album is stellar – Foot Village’s Miller, recent Sub Pop signee clipping.’s Daveed Diggs, Margot Padilla aka I.E. (whose 2013 release Most Importantly is a must hear), and meteorically rising star (in some circles, anyway) Signior Benedick the Moor. (More on Benedick later.) So why not – “supergroup” it is.
#POPPUNK is everything you expect from this crew, which, essentially, means the unexpected. I honestly had no idea what EP2 was going to sound like following #MONSANTO, and I had no idea what #MONSANTO was going to sound like when it came out. That may be the best thing about TNC, that the members and collaborators alike imprint the results with their unique perspectives – they’re like this weird tribe that gets it, knows what they’re all doing, and coalesces to form a Voltron-strong hybrid trading in prog rap or krautrap (yeah, I said prog rap and krautrap, SHUSH) that also has the particular zest of their LA home base and the “ghost” of the titular pop punk. (They’ve mentioned Oingo Boingo and Sparks as influences to their sound this time around.)
The EP, though, is split into two distinct flavors – one is a sunny, raucous, chart-reaching rambunctiousness injected throughout with excitability, while the other embodies a darker, drabber, more alienating quality, expressing the members’ fascination with various subgenres of noise music. The most immediately gratifying parts of the EP come right up front with the one-two punch of “Modern Art” and “Who Else Could I Be?,” the former a twisted-tempo maelstrom of vocal aerobics from Diggs, Benedick, and Miller. Diggs and Benedick are two of the most acrobatic rappers on the planet today, and it’s brilliant fun to hear them back to back. Sub Pop clearly knew what it was doing when it grabbed clipping. – Diggs breathes fire. Not to detract from Miller who does his thing just fine (and he’s credited with playing drums on this bad boy too) – it’s hilarious to hear him trying to cram an awesome lyric like “I’m Brian Miller and I’m a helluva guy” into a verse after Diggs and Benedick have laid waste to the song already. But it works!
But it’s “Who Else Could I Be?” that makes me freak out – it’s so good, and it features Glaswegian rapper diss1 and Benedick (and later Miller, following a breakdown into near silence) freaking out at each other over an old-school background produced by ex-Nero’s Day at Disneyland’s Lauren Bousfield. There’s no more exciting moment on the EP than when diss1 introduces Benedick, and the latter effortlessly slides in and tears the record to shreds. He says something about being “so excited” (kinda hard to make out, but hey, I’ll take what I can get here) and it’s absolutely true – that’s why Benedick’s so good. He brings a level of excitement that’s difficult to capture in any genre, and he elevates his peers – he brings out the best in TNC, for sure. And not to get into his catalog too much – his sbthemoor tape, which includes a reimagining of #MONSANTO’s “I Guess” with Catfish Candywrappa also on vocals, is one of the best things I’ve heard this year, and life will only get better once his debut album, El Negro, gets a physical pressing from Deathbomb in the near future – but dude’s pretty much a renaissance man when it comes writing, performing, recording, and producing his own material. It really is unique stuff.
I don’t mean to shortchange the rest of TNC at all – perhaps I’m just so enamored of the new and successful element. Padilla’s verse on “Can’t Stop Loving You” is right on, and she’s also credited with “electronics,” so her stamp is all over this record. The choice of using Robedoor and Venezuelan artist Algodón Egipcio on the two slower jams (“More a Kid” and “Can’t Stop Loving You,” respectively) is inspired. And Boo Hiss always brings it (“New Shit”). So if we’ve learned so far that True Neutral Crew will only ever, always surprise us, then I can’t wait for the next round of “new shit.” In fact, I’m so excited.
[Don’t forget – remix kit available here!]
RIYL: Signior Benedick the Moor, clipping., I.E., Foot Village