Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Collector Reviews: Electric Lemonade by Space Kamp

Space Kamp continues to create without boundaries on their sophomore LP, Electric Lemonade.

Three years after the release of the groups debut album, Terpene Station and I had been really looking forward to the follow up project. I felt their debut was something of a sleeper hit as the roster made up of Adlib, Oskee and Split all had flows, vivid narratives and punchlines. All their chemistry was also backed by psychedelic and forward thinking production spear headed by Rob The Viking. They had some good song concepts and came through with a really fun album. The Kamp continued through the decade with multiple tours as well as a seven inch single. Split, however, left the group early on in the production of the sophomore record.

Recording for Electric Lemonade began at Dizzibot Studios in Allentown, Pennsylvania throughout the latter half of 2019. The group also had additional recording sessions at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco and completed production at the Chamber Studios in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Similar to their first album, production concluded under Rob The Viking as he again provided additional instrumentation, mixing as well as mastering. This new record features guest production from DJ Hoppa and Tabinstereo as well as guest vocals from Tab, Demrick, Jessica Lamb and Split. The record was officially completed in spring of 2020 and released on June 25th.

The record kicks off pretty differently then their last album did with "New Strains". While Terpene Station made a point of presenting three capable and energetic emcees right away, Electric Lemonade fades in with more grace. The twittering synth cords had me really intrigued but I just didn't see this drum break coming. Adoo and Skee have such a filter on their vocals its like a broadcast on a CB echoing through a subway tunnel. Lyrics on this song range from the philosophical to the spiritual as Adoo and Skee focus on setting the mood rather than barring out right away. While the drums are relatively slow the cymbal work helps give it some bounce. The synth music stays pretty mellow up until the the bridge in the center of the track when Rob gives us a truly stunning solo on the synthesizer. I should mention that right off the bat, we're exposed to Rob The Viking handling more of the percussion as well than he did on Terpene Station, as this song and most of Electric Lemonade have noticeable Viking drums (that's never a bad thing). Roll down the windows to this one or just stretch out on the couch.

Keys and synths continue to be the primary instrument on "A.D.I.D.A.S.". The vocal manipulation tones down a little bit here in favor of more punchlines. Adoo opens the song speaking frankly from orbit before our beat comes in. I like seeing the same instruments carry through from the synthesizers to the chunky drums and cymbals. It's exciting to hear Oskee bring that growling delivery that I dug on "Neon Soul" to his verse here. There's standout lines from both guys here too like when Adoo says "My doob's laced, but my shoes not." The guys are definitely echoing the cypher-like energy of the first Kamp LP and DJ TMB has some really mean scratches of Run DMC to help reinforce the funk and add another layer to the acronym as well.  This isn't my favourite song on here but, Rob brought a good bounce and these verses are great refreshers for why Space Kamp is such a unique group.

The album starts to take on a reggae flavour with "Life's A Beach". Now this is one of my favourites on the record. Peppy synth notes bounce along with heavy snares. Rob still adds so much nuance to the progression of this song with different synths buzzing and zipping through the mix. Now given that the Kamp has changed from a trio to a duo we're seeing a little more from both Adlib and Oskee and this track demonstrates that a lot. Adlib is sounding more relaxed and confident than ever as he combines his slower flow with more enthusiastic tone. Oskee delivers a fantastic hook as well as a bridge, but I totally didn't expect him to drop an entire verse in Spanish. Seeing as how rap groups like Cypress and Psycho Realm are standing the test of time and Latin pop is a huge force in music right now, this one really stands to broaden the appeal of the group.

The second single off the record, "Girl Like You" pushes the reggae influence even further. While "Life's A Beach" still carried over a lot of synth work and programmed cymbals, this track here incorporates electric guitars, keyboards and the the cymbals don't feel as mechanical. Adlib is next to stand out as a singer on this totally panoramic hook. We have Adlib delving into his relationship in lines like "And she knows how to please me/To tolerate me can't be easy." Oskee adds more reference towards him falling in love with lines such as, "She tells me all the time/I'm not hard to find pick through the sky." The instrumentation here is so colourful and moving as well. Play this twice at minimum.

The cleverly titled "Homegrown" kicks off with these slamming drums before Adlibs bridge and Robs keys guide us into one of my favourite synth swells of the album. This track is just an affirmation to how Adoo and Oskee have handled their careers thus far. From Adoo saying "Got caught in traffic made our own road/Forever Homegrown, without strong roots, can't nothing grow." The roots referring to this show by show, fan by fan, accumulation that I've witnessed at a Rebel Hippies show personally. My favourite verse from Oskee on this whole record is here too as he's laying down amazing lyrics like "Took a little faith, put that in a pipe/Looked at Adoo told him we gon' be alright." It's a celebration of the bands progression, the joys of touring and it fucking slaps too.

Getting into side B, we have "Summer Of Love". I can see this one being perfect for getting the crowd energy back up after a slower song in the set list. A lot of that back and forth energy from Terpene Station can be felt in this chorus as Adlib and Oskee toss different crowd chants to each other. The bridge sees Jessica Lamb just soaring over this ensemble of kicks drums as the dense wave of synth work continues to rise. Both MCs have standout lines like Adlib in the front leg of the track saying, "Astronauts and dancing bears, smells the freedom in the air/Flowers in her hair, sour in the cone home on her eyes can't leave her alone." And Oskee finishes the track with "Acid hits, daffodils/This how summer suppose to feel." The drum playing is some of my favourite on the album especially leading up to and across the chorus. It reminds me a lot of what was on that Kids See Ghosts album by just being an expansive odyssey of psychedelic proportions.

Track seven is "Chicken & Waffles". Rob crafted one of my favourite beats here. It starts with somber piano keys that sit high and then we get lower keys added. The drum loop has lots open space in it as well. It's definitely one of the songs on this record with the least pieces to it. The result is a really slow and nocturnal bounce for the duo. Both of them have some decent punchlines in here too. I like Adlib saying "In the deck, ain't no eject/Kick a hole in your speaker then we jet." I'm digging his mouth like a disco ball line that's always a cool simile. They take turns rapping the hook here after each of their verses and Oskee drives the cosmic theme of this beat home with lines like "Day trippin' colour coordination vivid/Every step I take open dimensions".  I'm leaving this song feeling like I'm either hitting Dennys at four in the morning on some road trip or getting up from a midnight bong rip to raid the fridge. If I could show you a munchies anthem from outer space, this would be it.

Probably the hardest and most visceral cut on the record is track eight, "In My Bag" featuring Demrick and DJ Hoppa. Hoppa laces up this super mean synth line over some real savage trap percussion. The hi-hats aren't overwhelming and the bass still hits deep. Oskee floats in on this song while keeping his voice into that growling register that I really like. Adoo is still having all kinds of fun with his voice too. There's lyrics that are more clever and deeper from these two on the rest of the album but there's still something special about them tackling a beat as relentless as this. Mind you, having heard both Stoney Point albums that Demrick and DJ Hoppa has done together this might be one of the most visceral things they've been attached to as well. This is also the only track at this pace and with this kind of production  so I find myself coming back for the jolt of energy often.

The lead single of the record, "500 Miles" really surprised me. With how complex and technical production on the rest of the album is, we shed almost all the synth and bass lines for a purely acoustic experience. Similar to how a track like "A.D.I.D.A.S." can take us to a cypher on the street, this one here transports us to a campfire surround by friends. Tab returns from songs like "Tim Leary" to strum guitar as well as lend vocals. As the album winds down, the philosophy and resolve of Space Kamp is more and more highlighted and all three vocalists point that out in their own way. Despite the hook from Tab that you can't avoid humming along to, I think the real crown jewel of track comes from Adoo's verse where he raps "I'm a father, friend, son, stoner/I'm a joker, rock 'n' roller, loner, never had an owner." That, or Oskee in the lines, "Rockstar, switch bars for guitars/Say they don't feel it wait 'til it take off." The gentle crackle of a fire pit helps the song chill us out that much more. These guys continue to show they're comfortable without comfort zones.

The final send off to the LP comes with the title track. Now this shit is crazy. Space Kamps classic rock influence really shines here on every level from the drum set, hypnotic guitar leads and the encompassing echo of all the vocals. Adoo begins with his lyrics reverberating across the whole soundscape and deliver my favourite chorus of his on here too. The song continues to evolve across over seven minutes with guitar solos and quotables from each of them. My favourite line would be Oskee bragging how, no matter what, he has his feet kicked up on the lemonade stand. Split D returns to lend his hand to the all out performance and ends with the pertinent lyric of either creating paradise or wreaking havoc. There's nothing halfway about they're vocal performance on this song or the musical score. Rob The Viking breaks into a tremendous drum line that sweeps us up into the final moment of the album. Guitars are screaming and drums are slamming in this incredible arena sized display and it's a perfect note to end on. I love hearing the original drum pattern reemerge one last time in the final seconds to excitedly hint at the bands next journey. I'm glad they tackled a song like this again to push their sound just that much further before the end.

Pros: Adlib and Oskee are comfortable and confident across this song despite just about everything on here being new or unexplored territory. It feels like the Rebel Hippies slogan of breaking rules has finally linked with their approach to making music. Nine years after Daggermouth, Rob The Viking has found a completely different way to make an opus. The sequencing of each song is perfect to as we go from a sparkly, synth lead first act, to reggae passages, to triumphant anthems. The latter half is less predictable with each song capturing its own note. I should also mention that the song length is for the most part pretty generous as Space Kamp takes time to build introductions and employ all kinds of instrumental passages.

Cons: Though every song on this record is necessary to me, I do feel like an extra idea or exploration could've padded out the record a little bit more. The dynamic change from trio to duo is definitely noticeable in some spots as well since the method of three MCs all shouting lines back and forth was what made their original debut so spontaneous and fun.

Even in the current musical zeitgeist of synth-led psychedelic rap, Space Kamp is the only group I've heard effectively bridge the gap between the new wave and the original directional shift of classic rock from 60's and 70's. Not only can we gleam the more obvious influences of Cypress Hill or a Run DMC but listen close and you'll hear Bob Marley,  Jimi Hendrix and so much more. The result is group that can appeal to a Dead Head the same way a underground head could get into it. Electric Lemonade isn't just a tremendous sophomore LP, but an adventurous homage into all corners of hippie history and culture. While very much still grounded in hip-hop, Space Kamp still lends space to wonderful ventures like the blissful reggae jams on "Girl Like You" or the campfire inspired "500 Miles" and the Woodstock sized climax of the title track. Its shorter in length but seems to cover more ground than Terpene Station with Adoo and Skee subverting expectations on every dial turn while Rob The Viking is pushing his own limits with lush, multi tiered scores full of surprise and nuance. This really IS how summer is supposed to feel.

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