Life Is Expensive
Expansion can be tricky.
I originally bought this album in Japan before it was available here in the U.S. Waiting for it to be released in the U.S. was frustrating for me because I needed to get my hands on that new Time Machine jawn and I could not find it at home. So when I saw it at some random music shop in Kobe, I copped it right away. I spent a ton of Yen on albums that I couldn't even listen to while I was in the land of the rising sun. I had an iPod with me but I was buying CD's (I like liner notes and PDF is not fun to deal with on a computer). I had no laptop with me and I wasn't about to buy a portable CD player so I just had to hope that the albums I was buying were good stuff. Anyhow, this album did eventually come out in the U.S. but it seems to have been released with little fanfare; the "Life Is Expensive" hype machine failed to register on my radar. Well, here I am to try to put the album on yours.
Time Machine producer Mekalek has brought forth many a head-nod from yours truly on previous Time Machine efforts, and he did the same for me on this one although the head nods were stronger on some tracks than others. It seems that Time Machine wanted to expand their sound a bit and experiment with some more accessible (dare I say, commercial) tracks but wanted to keep the fanbase happy. So they mixed in some more traditional mellow underground hip-hop tracks. As such, the album seems split right down the middle between straight up underground hip-hop songs and "experiments". The experiments work about half the time. For the tracks that do not work for, the beats themselves are never the problem; Mekalek is as incredible as ever. Peep the instrumental of the record for evidence of that. Or you could just listen to "Mountains" which is just Mekalek showing off.
Nope. It is most definitely the choruses and lyrics that kill half of the experiments. Let's get specific.
"We're Making A Video" did not work for me at all. Neither did "(If You Know) What I Mean" and "Something We're Becoming". Again, the beats are more than ok. It's the choruses that kill it for me. I don't mind rappers singing when they can actually sing (see the Q-Tip review). But rappers who can't sing singing is...well, not good.
These low points aside, "The Beat That Just Won't Stop", "Here Comes That Sound", "Survival Kit" and the titular "Life Is Expensive" are some of the most unique songs that Time Machine has ever done and definitely push the boundaries of their sound (Check how "Survival Kit" starts out ambient and turns drum and bass by the end).
(By the way, "Here Comes That Sound" made me remember that I need to get Cool Calm Pete's album recommendation up on the site and that how much I can't wait for him to drop a new record).
It is probably painfully apparent that my favorite tracks on the album are more traditional. "In The City Of Everything", "A Little Dirt Of Your Own", and "Who Cares" are standouts for me. These songs bring excellent mellow beats and ill instrumentation that will have hip-hop heads smiling from ear to ear.
Lyrics vary in quality but they are always serviceable. Jaysonic is always on point, but Comel is the member where your mileage may vary. The high point for him comes on "Who Cares" while the low-low-low is his work on "The Unfortunate Twist".
I really really like Time Machine and if I'm being a bit harsh on them it's because I have very high expectations for them. Still, this album is worth checking out to see a group attempt to branch out. The majority of the album works very, very well and I think that diversity of it all elevates it beyond the sum of the individual tracks.
4.250 out of 5
|1. In the City of Everything (03:56)||5|
|2. (If You Know What) I Mean (02:47)||3|
|3. The Groove That Just Won't Stop (02:49)||5|
|4. We're Making a Video (03:26)||3|
|5. The Unfortunate Twist (03:47)||4|
|6. Here Comes That Sound (03:26)||4|
|7. Mountains (02:46)||4|
|8. Life Is Expensive (03:59)||4|
|9. A Little Dirt of Your Own (03:13)||5|
|10. Who Cares? (03:27)||5|
|11. Something We're Becoming (02:49)||4|
|12. Survival Kit (02:54)||5|