I can't imagine that you haven't already purchased their excellent Next Level LP in the year since its initial release, nor can I imagine you are overly concerned with my impression of the project at this late date. And yet I am going to share it nonetheless. Because, to quote that very famous, very dead scorpion of myth, "it's my nature."
Next Level kicks off with a guitar-fueled tribute to Dual Core's fanbase. From the online fans to face-to-face friends and legitimate financial supporters to pirates spreading the music for free, "For You" is a musical thank you note from c64 and int eighty. It boasts the solid lyricism you'd expect from the latter and an even harder edge on the production by the former. In short, it's the perfect way to kick off a new album.
"Kick Back" was the first sneak-peak track I ever heard from Next Level, and it holds up well even after a year in constant rotation. Pushing forward with 64's more aggressive beats and a cleverly copped vocal hook from Beefy, it's another lyrical mission statement from eighty that makes it an early highlight. This leads us to "Natural 20s," a song that holds a very special place in my heart. Originally created for my long-delayed 20-Sided Rhymes compilation, it's a light-hearted gamer anthem for the tabletop set complete with a shout-out to Jim Darkmagic.
"The Hollow" kicks things back to the console with an atmospheric story-song centered in the world of Marcus Feenix. In truth, it actually relates the narrative in a more concise and properly balanced manner than the game itself, and c64's musical backing is understated perfection. It also blends perfectly into follow-up "I Remember," a joint that sees int eighty and YTCracker reminiscing about the early days of the internet. The background loop is a bit repetitive and the lyrics a tad tech-heavy at times, but it suits the former hackers to a tee. "The Game" ably contrasts the serenity of "I Remember" with a more abrasive instrumental and an expertly rhymed storyline concerning the darker side of modern hacking. Through the tale of Victor, a coder from the former Soviet Bloc who now relies on his skills at identity theft to survive, eighty paints a sympathetic picture of an unlikely protagonist.
The half-way point of Next Level is marked by epic posse cut "Magnificent Seven." Featuring guest artists MC Frontalot, MC Lars, Schaffer the Darklord, Beefy, Random and YTCracker, it boasts "twee-style rhymes" composed via an extended Twitter conversation. Though it doesn't exactly occupy the same hallowed real estate as its forbear (Lost Reality's flawless "Fantastic Four"), it's a definite crowd-pleaser that assures #followfriday will never be the same again.
"Forever" is another amazing piece of high-energy sci-fi storytelling that again contrasts excellently with the starkly realistic "Life's Work," which sees eighty returning to the concept of the unstable and unfair modern workplace, and heavily the introspective "Letter to C64,"wherein eighty reps the DJ like no other.
Next Level begins its final decent with what is, even in the absence of my trademark hyperbole, one of my favorite tracks of all time. "Here to Help" brings back a cat that I've long considered the unofficial third member of Dual Core, Remington Forbes. Atop a silky smooth hook, Remy and eighty relate the woes of end-user support. Suffice it to say that this one hits close to home.
From there Dual Core treat us to the soulful and touching "Painting Pictures," a track that pours all of int eighty and c64's combined musical might into preaching the true power of technological progress. Though the story related didn't exactly happen, it is based on a very real cochlear implant, a true miracle of science and technology.
Rather than straight-up pull together the various musical and thematic elements demonstrated throughout the breadth of the album, closer "Alright" instead kinda goes the other way. Sure, eighty raps directly to the audience about who he is and what he does and c64 brings in a brassy and frenetic beat, but the overall tone of the piece expresses a certain differentness. From the instrumentation to the flow, it stands out among many of the darker-tinged and more cleanly calculated tracks that precede it. Some might see this as a failing in the overall musical cohesion of the project, but, knowing the band like I do, I instead understand it to be a sign.
You see, amid individual album themes and numerous minor recurring elements, Dual Core releases always hearken back to a single unifying concept; the artistic journey of two friends through the infinite possibilities of modern music. From the introductory vibe of Zero One to the feeling of good-natured camaraderie that permeated Super Powers, the statement of purpose that was Lost Reality to the triumphant celebration of success that is Next Level, Dual Core always tell their story. They always encapsulate the moment in time that is the album's creation, its production, its release. From eighty's perfectly-metered delivery to 64's delightful penchant for false stops, Dual Core have spent years refining their sound without watering down the listener experience.
And if "Alright" shifts unceremoniously from the brashness of the primary track to the experimental eclecticism of its hidden follow-up, it's only because the duo is attempting to give us a hint of sounds yet to come. And I, for one, can't wait to hear what awaits us on the following level.