32 LEVELS by Clams Casino
Genre: Cloud Rap
Favorite Tracks: “All Nite (featuring Vince Staples),” “Thanks to You (featuring Sam Dew),” “Ghost in a Kiss (featuring Samuel T. Herring)”
This is almost certainly one of the most anticlimactic releases of 2016. It’s trange now to think there was actually a time when seeing Michael Volpe’s Clams Casino production credit was a sure sign that a track would be a standout moment on a record. Having his fingers in all sorts of productions, from Lil B to FKA Twigs to A$AP Rocky to Foster the People, Volpe has certainly earned a reputation for genius, druggy, stylized beats — best showcased in his shimmering instrumental mixtapes and RAINFOREST EP. There’s no reason why such a prolific, talented producer should be releasing a debut record as lackluster as 32 LEVELS.
Unfortunately, however, the bulk of the record is reliant on features to sell the beats (Lil B, Mikky Ekko) or beats to sell the features (everyone else), amalgamating a product where passionless beats can barely hold up the apathetic features that are there to hold the beats up. It’s an endless cycle, like two people slipping on ice while simultaneously trying to hold the other one up though never quite being able to do so.
The first half of 32 LEVELS is very much a sleepy attempt at being a hip hop record, while the second half is a cringey attempt at being a pop record, neither really living up to their aspirations. The best piece from either half is placed at the beginning of each, being “All Night” featuring Vince Staples, rhythmically a carbon copy of “Norf Norf,” and “Thanks to You” featuring Sam Dew, ultimately leaving the listener robbed of the 30 minutes they could have spent just listening to the people who made this record “good.” To his credit though, the way Volpe utilizes the deep raspiness of Sam Herring’s voice when he hits his lows in the outro of “Ghost in a Kiss” is something I haven’t heard in his work with Future Islands or as Hemlock Ernst, but again, that’s a realm that only would have been explored because of Herring’s presence, and without it, 32 LEVELS would be an even emptier release; it would still feature those godawful Mikky Ekko and Kelela features, not to mention the plethora of Lil B marketing (just please make a record with Lil B instead).
Never from Clams Casino would I expect to be disappointed by the singles, only to enjoy them much more after hearing the record because the rest of the tracks were actually that much worse. 32 LEVELS only manages to redeem itself because of its guests, performances you’ll have to sift and sort through, as the rewarding tracks really are just diamonds in the rough.
(All that being said, I highly recommend checking out Sam Dew’s DAMN SUE from last year, because damn, that voice. And if you don’t want to waste another half hour on this record’s instrumentals, listen to Actress instead and I promise you’ll find what you’re looking for.)
Verdict: Do Not Recommend