CD Reviews: New Releases from Grayskul and Grand Archives

Grayskul"Mod Volatile"/"At the Time" (Fieldwerk Recordings)Onry Ozzborn and JFK, collectively known as Grayskul, are known for their dark, doomsday rhymes and production—a pattern that's marked most of their recorded material and earned them a reputation as a local duo who creates music to match the winters of the Pacific Northwest. However, on their latest project, a limited-edition 7-inch, they approach things from a uniquely more creative angle.Rather than trading verses as a group, each MC pairs with a different producer, Zavala or Maker, and raps solo. Ozzborn goes first; his three-minute "Mod Volatile," with electro beatmaster Zavala, is the unexpected gem here. Ozzborn's flow sounds a bit like Aesop Rock's, but it's less focused on Bukowski and Philip K. Dick, instead dealing with realities the average listener can understand. It's still thinking-man's hip-hop, though, with Ozzborn getting insecurities off his chest. And the production has a more IDM/electronic feel than many of the beats Grayskul has previously used.If Ozzborn's verses make you think, flip the record—JFK's rhymes feel more like he's just pissed off and needs people to listen. On "At the Time," he's rapping at a lightning pace—some of his double-time rhymes make him sound like a young Eminem. He's also spitting about a shady (zing!) girlfriend, but that's where the Em comparisons stop. Maker's sample-heavy beats sit right in JFK's pocket, and the two sound at home. Overall, it's a worthy collector's item, if you dig Northwest hip-hop that's remarkably different from what's winning locally right now. JONATHAN CUNNINGHAMGrand ArchivesKeep in Mind Frankenstein (Sub Pop)Grand Archives' 2008 self-titled debut is all about tension, created by crescendos and decrescendos. Echoing drums slowly morph into steady beats; gently plucked guitars rev into heavy strumming. A meandering folk song can turn into rollicking pop at any minute. The anticipation that a song might shift its pace every few bars drives the album.That feeling is nearly absent from Grand Archives' sophomore release. Keep in Mind Frankenstein is a well-crafted symphonic combination of Mat Brooke's trademark falsetto and careful orchestration, but it's ultimately forgettable because little changes from one track to the next. Even the poppiest song on the album, "Left All for the Strays," lacks depth. The beat is kept by maracas and a tambourine, and a harmonica plays on the bridge, but the song maintains the same steady pace for more than three minutes. There is no tension, no resolution.Vocal harmonies are laden throughout Keep in Mind Frankenstein, and that might be the album's fatal flaw. The layered vocals on "Siren Echo Valley (Part 1)" resemble a gospel choir, with only stringed instruments creating a haunting backing melody. While that composition works for a minute-long song, it's not enough to drive an entire album."Dig That Crazy Grave" is the closest Keep in Mind Frankenstein comes to anything on Grand Archives; it's the best song on the album. It's steadily upbeat until the chorus, when the instrumentals fall away and only a rumbling drum backs Brooke's vocals. The rest of the song anticipates that chorus, waits for it, which creates tension. But seven slow and static tracks lead up to "Dig That Crazy Grave," and that's just too long to wait. PAIGE RICHMOND

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