Irony. Here he was, a creative ex-student of mine, bleating on Facebook about the state of modern music and harking back to the day when musicians played actual instruments, not making ‘sound collages’ by pressing play on a loop. He had plenty of ‘I hear ya’s backing him up, too. I laced up my gloves and entered the ring. Now don’t get me wrong: I like melodies, musicianship and witty lyrics as much as the next Slipknot fan, but it has been done. Perhaps to death.
Over the past decade, some of the best music has come from artists who have shoved various genres in a blender and come up with something new, inimitable and often unpalatable to the masses….Flying Lotus, Burial, Kanye West, Radiohead, MIA, Animal Collective and James Blake. It is far too early to suggest that Clams Casino has the chops to join this illustrious group, but his music flirts with form and has, so far, evaded easy definition.
Clams Casino’s rise is the most modern of music stories. Infuriatingly for all those Facebook finger-waggers, Clams Casino is Mike Volpe, a 23 year-old physiotherapy student who has confessed that his sound collages are ‘just a hobby.’ He works on his beats from his mum’s New Jersey attic and describes his method succinctly: “To find things to sample, I used to just type a random word – like “blue” or “cold” – into LimeWire or BearShare and download the first ten results.” Not exactly rock ‘n’ roll. Once a beat was built, he emailed the results out to rising rappers, such as Lil’ B and Souljah Boy, and waited. And his method seems to have worked. A collection of these beats was uploaded onto Mediafire in March as a 160kbps bit-rate ‘Instrumental Mixtape’, Tri Angle released his ‘Rainforest’ EP in June and now Type are about to re-issue the ‘mixtape’ on vinyl.
Clams Casino has trimmed the fat from hip-hop’s jiggling booty. The boom-bap of bass and snare provides the album’s spine, but its heart owes more to the glitch and hiss and ghostly vocals of Burial or Tri Angle stablemate, Balam Acab. But where Burial conjures rain and chill; here, soaring synths radiate a slow glow that seems to light these tracks from below. On album opener, ‘Motivation’, Casino guts the cod philosophy of Lil’ B, and we are left with a warm, booming space, complete with birdsong. The most symbolic departure from traditional hip-hop comes in the spectral ‘Real S**t from a Real Nigga’; every time I listen, there’s a double-take to check the title. You could cherry-pick for highlights - ‘Illest Alive’ in which Casino samples Björk’s ‘Bachelorette’ is buried inside this listener’s brain – but you would be doing your ears a huge disservice.
With a final flex of sagging teacher muscle, I suggested some homework for my ex-student. I told him he was too young to perch a pint of flat beer on his Black Sabbath’d belly and boo from the back like a latter-day Stadler or Waldorf. I told him to listen to Clams Casino.... I have yet to hear back from him. True, you are not likely to be yelling along as you lasso your soap on a rope, but it is immersive, almost literally so. While music from our digital age can often leave the listener cold, I advise you to pour yourself a drink, lie back and let Clams Casino wash over you.