It really is. You have to listen to the same songs over and over again with the specific intent of uncovering which succeed on multiple levels and which ultimately fail. It's a bit of a daunting task. But I continue to do it. Mostly because people ask me to nicely.
nYgel sent me a pre-release copy of his new mixtape Free To Good Home a while back. It wasn't totally complete, but the meat of the album was in there. In the ensuing weeks I've been treated to additional and revamped tracks, and a more sharpened listening experience over all.
Yet even from those earliest days, even from those less polished versions, the album proved to be an exhilarating experience.
In it's finished form it's truly the kind of thing that one needs to hear to truly understand. But those handful of you who'd like to know my thoughts are free to read on.
- "First Song 4 Your Mixtape"
nYgel kicks off the proceedings with a clever reworking of Brand New's "Mix Tape." It has an odd, ethereal feel that highlights the artist’s penchant for the fine art of the bootleg remix.
- "S@rge (ft. Conyeezy, DJ Zap scratches)"
The airy intro is followed with a straight-ahead nerdcore number featuring frequent collaborator Conyeezy. I'm a fan of Yeezy, but I admittedly gave him a little grief concerning flow on his contributions to the previous mixtape. So let me explicitly state that this track features one of his best performances to date. His delivery is measured and his swagger properly honed, which serves him well atop nYgel's sharp backing. While the beat is a little simple, the vocals and scratching dress it up nicely.
- "The Hyphy Dance (ft. T.Y.T., Whore Moans, YTCracker)"
After keeping things fairly textbook on "S@rge," nYgel again gets a little eclectic on this track, mixing hyper-active clubs sounds with nerdy hip-hop. T.Y.T., Whore Moans, and YTCracker all bring their A games, and it makes for an unforgettable song.
- "World @ Large"
By this point in the album, one can't help but notice the release's dual nature: Free To Good Home is both a hip-hop mixtape and a sonic experiment in the field of the underground remix. This song falls firmly into the latter, and takes one of my favorite Modest Mouse tracks in a wholly different direction. Though it's a little long, the only thing this track really has going against it is that it will surely serve to frustrate hip-hop heads who don't generally expect this sort of fare in their mixtapes.
- "Get Fresh (interlude)"
Rather than switch things right back to hip-hop, nYgel dwells in the realm of odd electronica for a few minutes more. It's a little strange to have two such lengthy tracks back-to-back on a release of this nature, but, other than possibly undermining a bit of the inertia the album's built up thus far, the song is well-textured and enjoyable.
- "Rap Fanatic (ft. Jesse Dangerously, Ranger, LogicOne, DJ Zap scratches)"
"Rap Fanatic" is a blissful return to rap, featuring excellent contributions by each of its featured artists. Once again, the backing sounds a tad thin, but I’ll simply chalk this up as a ploy by nYgel to highlight the featured rappers. While Jesse D and The Ranger both bring really enjoyable verses, LogicOne’s verse is slightly soured by overused vocal effects. And sadly, this song ends a bit too abruptly.
- "Wicked (ft. Benjamin Bear, Id Obelus, DJ Bizkid scratches)"
While I love the frenetic beat and I admire the styles of contributors Benjamin Bear and id obelus, this song also suffers from overuse of vocal delay. Still, it's enjoyable, and Bizkid's scratches are probably his most dynamic of the album. Overall it’s an enjoyable song that’s just a little messy.
- "You Don’t Know About That"
nYgel again does his best to desecrate a contemporary Billboard chart-topper – this time T.I.'s "What You Know" – to great effect. With a nice blend of sharps hooks, smooth backing, and good old-fashioned pitch manipulation, it’s a fun ride.
- "1to3for (ft. ytcracker)"
Easily the album’s thesis statement, "1to3for" is both a masterful cut-up and a legitimate hip-hop track. While some may see it as two songs lashed together, I say it’s the best of both worlds. It’s delightful change-up (between the Feist and YTCracker movements) and masterful use of stereo panning makes it enjoyable despite being a bit on the lengthy side.
- "Take Your Time (featuring Whore Moans, Legendary Wizard, Conyeezy)"
Honestly, this track doesn’t exactly kick off with Whore Moan’s best rhymes, but it’s fun and features tons of movement. Plus, it’s arguably a better use of the Jimmy Eat World hook than the original source track. ;) It sounds repetitive after a point and Legendary Wizard’s vocal doubling is a tad much, but Conyeezy comes through with another great contribution. In the end, it's the type of song that manages to make you love it in spite of a few shortcomings.
- "Happy 2Gether (ft. Whoremoans)"
Though this lo-fi Whore Moans joint seems a like a jarring change from its forerunner, it too is a keeper. Moans raps kind of fast and the beat is a little repetitious, but the whole track manages to be equally sharp and loose. It spotlights Moans’ exceptional storytelling abilities, and some crazy-ass drums in its final quarter help to kick it up a notch.
- "Have You Seen Rain (ft. TYT)"
Fulfilling a similar role as Conyeezy’s "The Wanderer" from Nature’s Outcasts, "Have You Seen Rain" is the emotional core of Free To Good Home. It’s a powerful heartbreaker tinged with hope that’s truly one of T.Y.T.’s best. Sometimes he gets a little ahead of himself with regard to flow – which is, I admit, my only genuine complaint about any of his work – but it comes together in every way possible. nYgel, T.Y.T. , and Fogerty are perfectly matched from the start, and the change-up at the 2:20 mark adds just the right amount of dynamism.
- "Digital Lyfe (ft. Funky49)"
An excellent transition leads in to this funky49 joint. While not my favorite selection from his Starblazer album, it’s a great follow-up that ably propels the album forward.
- "Gayest Shirt (Killsaly remix of nYgel remix)"
This remix of a remix doesn’t have all the style of The Grammar Club original, but it’s competent and catchy. Plus it features two of my favorite producers and one of my favorite bands, so I’m an easy sell.
- "Sugar, We’re Slowin’ Down"
Another amazing transition leads us into a brilliant reimagining of a mediocre radio hit. The way nYgel forces this mall punk number into a ska-flavored offbeat by slowing it down is truly ingenious. It’s a great cut-up with some wonderful glitch elements that may prove too long for some, but not for me. I see it as a testament to nYgel’s ability to wholly repurpose a song to his own diabolical design.
- "Wake This Up"
I’ve spent a sizable chunk of this review talking about song lengths, but this track stands out as the album’s longest. It certainly takes Green Day into new territory, but it suffers both because of length and because of its proximity to the all-too similar "Sugar, We’re Slowin’ Down." Still, it’s not without its charms, notably the injection of some totally unexpected mc chris at 3:45 and a very thematic fade-out.
- "Hardly Tell (nYgel remix ft. Conyeezy)"
This remix of a song from YTCracker’s new Serious Business EP is a fine note on which to end. It pairs YT’s vocal high end with Conyeezy’s low, which makes for a fantastic contrast. It's the perfect hate song on which to allow the listener to reflect in the mixtape's waning moments, and should prove a fan favorite.
It is, in short, the kind of album that's incredibly easy to like.
My only recurrent complaints, things like leveling and pacing issues, are only noticeable when viewing the album as a whole. And even then only slightly so. When listening to it as a regular listener on a track-by-track basis – read: like someone not attempting to review it – you're simply apt to come away with a smile on your face and a few more solid additions to your most played list.
Free To Good Home is a mixtape that shows nYgel's musical growth, spotlights a number of notable contributors, and genuinely deserves your attention. There's something for everyone, and the more open-minded your view and eclectic your taste, the more you'll find to enjoy.