Melancholy Hopeful is the second album by producer Marcus D, following 2010’s Shoshin. The Kickstarter campaign that funded the album was a resounding success thanks to fans, and the feeling of a global collaboration in realising the project served to heighten anticipation for its eventual release…
The first thing that this album hits you with is the artwork. At a time when many producers release projects looking like geometry textbooks, minus all the vowels, it’s refreshing to see some creativity – you’ll find no fixation with triangles or disdain for grammar here. Instead we have thoughtfully crafted artwork by Shuhei Matsuyama, evoking thematic concepts of cyberpunk literature that is open to interpretations.
Once things get going musically, you’ll find UK emcee Funky DL on the albums opening track “Don’t Hold Ya Breath” proclaiming “the sound that we create is like a world apart from the majority of people suffocating the art”. While many may hear this as a jibe to the industry dominated hip-hop scene, it could be considered equally applicable to the jazz-hop genre too. Enter some generic search terms in Bandcamp and you’ll soon be lost in a sea of homogenous post-Nujabes beat tapes. Fortunately, Marcus D’s sound avoids becoming another drop in this ocean. While the album has an obvious and sometimes predictable aesthetic of jazz-hop, boxing it entirely within the genre wouldn’t do it justice as many tracks escape its definitions.
A key skill of any producer is being able to have the instrumentation do the talking, negating that recurring and redundant argument against instrumental music as lacking engagement. While this has been evident on previous releases, its pretty fine tuned on Melancholy Hopeful with instrumental tracks ranging from the reflective and meditative “Nocturne Of Love” to the more vibrant “Misanthropy”, props too for the guest musicians who add their touch. A favourite writer of mine once explored the conundrum of writing about music, stating that anything worth mentioning is nearly indescribable – so I’ll use this pass for the track “Titania”, because my attempt to give praise is guaranteed to fall short of hearing it for yourself…
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The collaboration between Marcus D and Emancipator on “Kindred Spirit” delivers as the progressive super-instrumental that you would expect; a personal highlight – I’m sure the same applies for others familiar with both artists.
Although this is a producer’s album, a generous amount of room has been given to its vocal performers. It’s refreshing to see that this doesn’t follow the common format of emcee’s throwing in their leftover rhymes. While some don’t quite hit the bar as high as others, there are enough lyrically dense tracks on here to spawn individual analyses, check “Melancholy Hopeful” featuring Cise Starr and “One People” featuring Shing02. For this reason the album should garner deserved acclaim from listeners outside of the instrumental crowd.
The latter track takes a different tone to the last time we heard Marcus D and Shing02 on “Parallel Universe”, reflecting global events that have unfolded in the interim. The production is one of the stand-out moments of Melancholy Hopeful, lending the hard-hitting lyrics urgency and poignancy simultaneously. The musical chemistry here is nothing short of great.
[wpaudio url=”http://d2jos65913uaef.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/08-One-People-ft.-Shing02.mp3″ text=”Marcus D – One People (ft. Shing02)” dl=”0″]
A feature by one half of Binary Star, One Be Lo, sees him re-equip his trademark ballistic flow with a more sobering approach, however he still maintains a high level of wordplay finesse “my syntax wall of fame like graffiti on trains”. My only major gripe with this track, and some others, would be the vocalist on the hook. This stems from a personal dislike of overt hooks in general though, and most people will simply take it for what it is and have no issue. Elsewhere Substantial forms polysyllabic rhymes in an ode to the “power of one syllable” on “Universal Language”, and later joins fellow lyrical stalwarts Funky DL and Cise Starr on “Night On The Town” which is sure to gain an anthem-like status amongst fans.
Melancholy Hopeful is Marcus D’s strongest effort yet. There’s a clear vision; its execution should go down exceptionally well for fans and it’s progressive sound should go some way into gaining new ground amongst new listeners.