Toronto-based hip hop band Grand Analog’s latest release Survival EP dropped in late January, 2018. Backed up by heavyweight guest vocals and crisp production, the EP oozes with a raw, soulful sound that takes us back to the golden era of hip hop.
The first single “Mutations,” with an old-school block rockin’ beat and vocals by Posdnuos of De La Soul, is the catchiest track on the EP. Remember when rappers used to tell stories about the struggles of growing up and finding one’s place in the world? “Mutations” reminds us of that era with lyrics that metaphorically compare coming of age with the movement of a clock. It’s easy to relate to “the little hand and the big hand moving further from little boy to big man,” and the beauty of the song is its simple but universal message.
On the haunting “Survival: the Levy,” ambient synths and atmospheric guest vocals from Adaline and Nestor Wynrush lead to a chorus of “don’t look down, it’s about to go down.” The beats and lyrics are deep, and there’s some tension between surviving “that cold” and Adaline wondering, “Is the levy about to break?”
“Ride On” is a slow burner “song about survival” that creeps along with bass and psychedelic synths that recall G-Funk, P-Funk, and other variations of classic funk. Grand Analog also dabble in dub-wise, and “Ride On” includes a brief dub interlude. Although I love dub and encourage artists to seek inspiration from King Tubby, this section seems out of place on the EP.
“Ballad of the Beast” is a more hard-hitting, battle-rap tune that opens with a snappy guitar riff. While some of the other tracks on Survival EP explore deep questions about life, “Ballad of the Beast” has a raw and competitive style, with lyrics about basketball and “putting up absurd numbers…’86 Larry Bird numbers.” The live instruments on this track shine, with a pulsing bass line and bright guitar riffs backing up tight vocals from guests Shad and Len Bowen. And a little turntable magic from DJ Dopey make jam is a scorcher.
The most night club friendly track “Quiet Life” is a dance-floor burner with a funky house beat and analog synths in the tradition of Jamiroquai. Eclectic beat makers like Montreal’s Kaytranada are exploring dance music more often these days, bringing a more fun and soulful style to a genre that was stagnating in predictable dark electro and burnt out psy-trance.
Grand Analog’s Survival EP is a funky, retro-sounding alternative to the trap style that has taken the hip hop world by storm. Founding member and lead vocalist Odario Williams describes the band as a “beautiful mess of rap’n’roll, dub, and soul.” Driven by live musicians and a soulful style, the songs stand out from other cold and calculated contemporary hip hop productions. This half-hour long EP will be rocking in my headphones for quite some time.
Written by Rob Coles
*edited by Kate Erickson