Open Mike Eagle / Selbstlaut / Dot. (Beatset) / Vetter Huber
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Open Mike Eagle:
Michael Eagle and David Cohn knew each other years back as a couple fellow Southern Illinois University students. Both were interested in doing nervy hip-hop that rendered personal neuroses into allusive, bittersweet comedy (and vice-versa). They know each other now as transplanted Angelenos with deep mutual respect, a faithful cult fanbase, and a creativity-stoking environment of collective support—but those neuroses can still be hard to shake. They keep finding successful ways to exorcise those frustrations, cracking jokes and facades at the same time. Naturally, they'd have a lot to ricochet off each other, something that sporadic teamups only hinted at.
Time & Materials gives that dynamic a shot over the course of 26 short minutes, proving more than anything that there's more depth still left unexplored. The album's recorded under the name Cavanaugh, and the setting of this brief-but-deep album is intriguing, in a J.G. Ballard-via-The Coup kind of way: the inhabitants and social structures of a Florida mixed-income project featuring units for both luxury condos and subsidized housing tenants. "Mike and Dave" are resident handymen who schlep from residence to residence, glimpsing other people's lives while doing what they can to keep the same systems functioning for the rich and the broke alike. And in the process, they channel the residents' class-war conflicts into their own combative moods, fueling their own stress over money, relationships, and an uncertain future that keeps them from being the assertive successes they want to be.
Time & Materials tackles sociological themes that would be sledgehammer-obvious in less-nuanced hands. But the duo draws you in by skimping on or misdirecting details. Serengeti disappears deeper into his lyrical role than Mike does—understandable from an MC who's been known to do half a live set in the guise of a cranky, bellowing 50-year-old. But for his first full-length production job, Mike sets a tone as raw-nerved and abrasively contemplative as the concept demands. A soupy drone on "Typecast" evokes the stress and sweat of the escape-seeking protagonists, including guest turns by P.O.S., Busdriver, and Future Islands' Sam Herring in his purposefully-awkward rap alter ego Hemlock Ernst. The creaking sludge of opening track "Zorak" underscores the TV-casualty free association of the lyrics.
The big drawback of the production's distorted, synthwave-on-codeine atmosphere is that it threatens to muffle the rewind-demanding intricacies of both MCs—Serengeti's motormouthed turns of run-on worldbuilding in particular get trickier to grasp. It's also not always clear whether the characters Mike and Serengeti inhabit are the maintenance guys or the people they cross paths with and intrude on by necessity. Of course, the larger question is whether they're really inhabiting or observing outside characters at all—"I" heavily outnumbers "you" and "they" in the whole narrative pronoun department, and the fraying seams of their own mind states stand out no matter who's being profiled.