Dark Time Sunshine
For an emcee with an absurd number of aliases (Onry Ozzborn, Reason, Count Draven etc.), Michael Martinez seems to have found his true identity as Cape Cowen with Dark Time Sunshine. The dystopian malevolence of his earlier work with Grayskul and Oldominion has largely given way to witty and astute musings on the human condition via Vessel. His shift in approach is reminiscent of Cage’s reinvention of himself some five years ago. While a dark, nebulous undercurrent remains, rays of sunlight occasionally peak through the Venetians.
The sinister soundscapes of Zavala, the Chicago-based producer and other half of Dark Time Sunshine, propel Cape Cowen toward the most focused work of his burgeoning career. Zavalas’s sound is equal parts boom bap and psych-rock. The consistency of his beats provides the platform for a wide array of subject matter to develop without sacrificing continuity. A tongue-in-cheek Cape Cowen refers to the project as snob rap and places it somewhere on the continuum between MGMT and Outkast. He is at his storytelling best on “E.R.” and “Little Or No Concern,” the latter track a somber, heartfelt tale of inherited addiction. P.O.S. and Aesop Rock breathe fire over lo-fi funk on “Primor,” which epitomizes everything a posse cut should be. Vessel reaches its cinematic apex on the dense, uptempo “All Aboard,” with assistance from Reva Devito on the beautiful, swirling hook. No song better encapsulates Cowen’s artistic transformation.
Following the superb EP Believeyoume, which found Cowen handling all vocal duties, the abundance of guests on Vessel comes as a surprise. Fortunately the lion’s share of featured artists (e.g. Solillaquists of Sound, Qwel) carry their weight and complement Zavala’s production style quite well. Some of his more nefarious beats lend themselves to razor-sharp, abstract raps from Cowen which are every bit as engaging as the straight-forward concept pieces on the record. There are few dull moments on Vessel, one of the strongest hip hop albums of this young year indie or otherwise.
Fake Four has emerged as a formidable label with avante-garde releases over the past half-year from the likes of Dark Time Sunshine, Sole & The Skyrider Band and Ron Contour. Wildly talented lyricists and mind-bending beatsmiths are pushing the boundaries of indie rap while incorporating a vast arsenal of influences. With summer albums on the way from Ceschi and Factor, don’t expect the momentum to die anytime soon.
Song you’ll remember in five years: “All Aboard”
Line you’ll remember in five years: “Yeah I know all of you bored / So was I until I found out what I’m for and what I’m not for” (from “All Aboard”)