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Album Review
New Hat and A Haircut

New Hat and A Haircut
by Tommy Ill

EMI/Loop Recordings

Review Date
31st May 2012
Reviewed by
Alistar Wickens

Tommy Ill has come a long way since his days of touring with an iPod, rapping over pre-recorded beats made on his laptop at home. If you want proof it’s in his sophomore album New Hat and a Haircut, which serves as a testament to his hard work, perseverance and the wonders that label support can bring. While it may seem as though he takes a laissez-fare approach to his music, in reality the album is a culmination of Tommy’s constant songwriting, recording, touring and honing of his songs.

Having support from his new label, EMI, has meant that he has been able to create a fuller, richer album than his debut (2010’s Tommy Ill). Everything on the New Hat and a Haircut just sounds bigger, better and more polished. That’s not to say that big money was lavished on this album, as it was still recorded in a wardrobe and followed Tommy’s usual DIY ethos. It’s just a lot less apparent on this recording than on everything he’s done before it. The songs also, for the most part, sound as though he’s put more thought into them. The exception being 'New Car Money', which is sure to be the next single as it has a similar sound and feel to his tracks that have had the most success ('Best Damn Evening' and 'Come Home Mr. Ill'). Yet, unlike those two,'New Car Money' doesn’t seem to have the same impact and you get the impression it’s there solely as an attempt at emulating that success.

While the sound may be bigger, the content hasn’t changed much at all since his first release, the Toast and Tea Kettles EP in 2007. He’s still rapping about how hard his life is, how he’s never got any money, and the constant partying that he portrays his life as. He’s never been one to get you thinking too deeply about the big issues, but he might just get you to forget your problems for an hour or two. At the least he’ll make you feel like your problems might be valid too, and that he share’s them; as long as it’s nothing more serious than working too hard for little money, or running out of beer.

Always closer to the indie crowd than the hip hop scene, the album still manages to give nods to both. A guest appearance by Alphabethead, albeit delivering little more than some token scratching, hints at the respect Tommy gets from local hip hop artists and provides another layer to both songs he appears on (No Magnets and River Tam). Auckland indie wonderkid Pikachunes also shows up singing the chorus on Home and providing a refreshing counter to Tommy’s energetic and enthusiastic delivery.

If you’re not a fan already, there might be little here to win you over, although it’s definitely worth a listen if all that was putting you off in the past was low production values. But if you’ve already joined Tommy Ill’s party, then New Hat and a Haircut is sure to keep that party going for a while to come.


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