On the road to underground hip-hop credibility, lyrical jabs at the mainstream are bus fare. Audible Mainframe devote a healthy portion of their third album, Transients, to decrying the candy-coated hip-hop du jour; they’re also not afraid to get off the Greyhound and wander through more personal terrain. Before relocating to Long Beach, Audible Mainframe had a steady gig as Slick Rick’s East Coast backing band, but the native Bostonians possess enough skill to chart their own path to a solid album.
It helps that they’re working with a unique sonic backdrop. The six-piece band, fronted by the bombastic MC Expo, compress layers of brass, rhythm and turntables into a Molotov cocktail that explodes with opening track “Money and Flash.” The album continues on a Superfly high as trumpet outbursts, soul claps and car-chase rhythms permeate Expo’s message of individuality on “Don’t Be Sheep (On Friday Night).” They’ve also dabbed a few songs—such as “Subi Alto (Climb Higher)”—with bionic synth flavors that push their sound a bit further into electro territory.
But even if the band’s mixture of old-soul energy and futuristic post-production makes good hype music against trite hip-hop villains (corrupt government, FM radio), it wouldn’t be enough to turn jaded heads at first listen. The band are at their best with songs such as “Traffic” or “Real Talk.” Armed with sincere lyrical chops about their own journeys, the tracks are devastatingly catchy without trying to be. And though Transients may not turn Audible Mainframe into lords of the underground, a little bit of sunshine has done their sound a lot of good.
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