Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: AMTHST Euphoria

Tom Breihan | February 16, 2016 - 11:24 am

This week, Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo is obviously the album sucking up all the oxygen in the room, and deservedly so. Even beyond that, though, this is a very good week for people toying around with their given genres and pushing past perceived limits. I’m a big fan of Prins Thomas’ Principe Del Norte, a spaced-out and expansive mood-music fusion of ambient house and krautrock, and of Lushlife’s beautifully discordant shoegaze-rap opus Ritualize. But for me, the most exciting non-Kanye album of the week isn’t an album at all. It’s an EP: Euphoria, the five-song debut from AMTHST, the unlikely duo of Droop-E, the Bay Area rapper and producer, and Nite Jewel, the Los Angeles haze-pop auteur.

I say the combination is unlikely because Droop-E and Nite Jewel come from vastly different musical universes, but neither of the two has ever been beholden to genre orthodoxies. Droop-E was literally born into rap. His father is the Vallejo, California rap legend E-40, and a 7-year-old Droop-E rapped a few bars on E-40’s classic 1995 album, In A Major Way. (40’s long-running Sick Wid It indie is releasing the AMTHST EP.) But as he’s come into his own as a rapper and producer, he’s proven to be restless and inventive. Even within the context of the always-creative Bay scene, his beats are glittering puzzles. He’s as likely to make something lush and life-affirming as he is to make his tracks explode in a million digital shards. Meanwhile, Nite Jewel is the brainchild of Ramona Gonzalez, a multimedia artist who makes squelchy, off-kilter synthpop. She’s got Ariel Pink connections, which is maybe not that surprising, but she’s also made music with Julia Holter and Dam-Funk. It’s easy to imagine Droop-E and Nite Jewel seeing each other as fellow travelers, and being drawn together accordingly.

Euphoria isn’t the duo’s first collaboration; Nite Jewel sang the hook on Droop-E’s 2013 single “N The Traffic.” That song was a bit of a dry run for what Euphoria would become: warm, expansive, softly spacey. But it was still very much a Droop-E track. It was smooth and controlled Bay Area trunk-rattle music. Euphoria is something else. On Euphoria, Droop-E and Nite Jewel meet in the middle by slowing down and getting woozy. It’s a sleek and moody and atmospheric affair, and I like it more than any of the solo music from either member of the duo. If it reminds me of anything, it’s mid-’90s trip-hop, except if that stuff had been made by an actual professional American rapper rather than a muttering Brit.

Droop-E doesn’t really rap that much on Euphoria, and when he does, none of his lines are especially memorable. Somehow, though, that works just fine; his verses are textures, subsumed completely within the whole. A couple of the tracks on Euphoria sound, essentially, like rap music, just slower and more echoey. But the EP is stronger when the music loses touch completely with what either principal had been making before. Consider first single “Thug Passion,” a lurching funeral dirge that buries chattering electronic chaos under Fender Rhodes sustain and a poised-but mournful vocal from Gonzalez. Or “OverZone,” on which yawning synth-cascades threaten to swallow some heavy and jittery drum-machine bursts. The whole EP works as a compact-but-drifty mood-piece, and it does what a debut EP is supposed to do: It hints at vast possibilities, at the great things these two could do together if they keep the collaboration going.

Euphoria is out 2/17 on Sick Wid It.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Kanye West’s chaotic, confusing, stupid, transcendent The Life Of Pablo.
• Animal Collective’s “Ramones album” Painting With.
• Lushlife’s dizzy shoegaze-rap head-snapper Ritualize.
• Prins Thomas’ spacey, expansive double album Principe Del Norte.
• Wild Nothing’s sweeping, romantic Life Of Pause.
• BJ The Chicago Kid’s soulful major-label debut In My Eyes.
• TEEN’s burbling, squelching Love Yes.
• Ra Ra Riot’s dizzy, energetic alt-popper Need Your Light.
• Matmos’ washing-machine-sounds concept album Ultimate Care II.
• Mavis Staples’ reliably powerful Livin’ On A High Note.
• Avant-garde supergroup Rangda’s deep-psych excursion The Heretic’s Bargain.
• Seth Bogart’s bright, playful self-titled conceptual pop debut.
• Kal Marks’ bleak, punishing Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies.
• Stereolab offshoot Cavern Of Anti-Matter’s debut Void Beats/Invocation.
• Murals’ psychedelic folker Violent City Lantern.
• The National offshoot LNZNDRF’s self-titled debut.
• Sioux Falls’ vulnerable, burnt-out Rot Forever.
• So Pitted’s scuzz-punk debut neo.
• Alexei Shiskin’s lo-fi, unassuming Yucca Street.
• A Place To Bury Strangers member Dion Lunadon’s solo move Com/Broke.
• Jack Garratt’s electronic pop LP Phase.
• Rick Rubin’s Lucasfilm-themed compilation Star Wars Headspace.
• CFCF’s On Vacation mini-LP.
• Moderat’s Reminder EP.
• Purling Hiss’ Something EP.
• Marching Church’s Coming Down: Sessions In April 12″.
• Tiny deaths’ Night Flowers EP.
• Tangerines’ Sugar Teeth EP.