Project Dark: …And It Was Black

Let there be Dark

KGB and Moshe unleash a Project five years in the making

The last time DJ/producer/label head Moshe appeared in this column [this originally ran in the winter of 2007], it was posited he had “raised dark and gloomy to a hip-hop art form,” which I meant as a compliment. As a purveyor of his own kind of goth-hop (goth-tronica?), there is no mistaking a Moshe track, full of deep fuzzy synths, half-time beats, and disconcerting samples that are just as Romantic as that new By Blood Alone album.

Now, with partner KGB/Syn the Shaman, he has found his calling with Project Dark’s …And It Was Black, a 13-track concept album of sorts, released by Milled Pavement Records, that shows that minimalist production paired with cogent and crisply delivered lyrics can effect a very interesting piece of art/music, indeed.

Central to the album is a spiraling narrative lifted from/referencing the thirtysomething cult classic River’s Edge, which not only stars Keanu Reeves, but also tells the charming tale of a guy who’s killed his girlfriend for “talking shit” and is reveling in showing off her dead body to his buddies (while they get stoned, if I recall correctly). Somehow, this material both suits Project Dark’s musical intentions and allows them get fairly deep.

[[Editor’s note: Normally, I embed something so you can listen to the album, but I can’t find anything online. It looks like Spotify won’t let the album play because there’s a U.K. group called “Project Dark,” and Spotify is either giving them priority for the name or is just confused. I think Last.fm might be a place you can download it, so that link is here.]]

The first track allows us voyeuristic entrance to an argument that gets rather heated, though our protagonist has done little more than wake his gal up: “I said I’m fucking sorry/ You don’t have to act this way/ But I see how are/ Overdramatic basket case.” On top of Moshe’s languid keyboard line, KGB anchors the track with a delivery that’s monotone and methodical, setting the tone for an album that will proceed to feature an emotional detachment and destruction always personified by his half-rap/half-drone.

By “Practice Makes Perfect Sense,” Project Dark are past the murder and considering the consequences. KGB’s voice is resigned, but with a hint of sing-song, which is all the more creepy, amped up by Moshe’s crazed samples like Hitchcock’s birds chirping. “I should have used a chain, maybe a few bricks,” we’re told, as the body floats. “You’re floating to your grave, and I’ll miss you.” Just as River’s Edge sought to comment on the broken nature of a generation (see Less than Zero for the rich people’s version), here Project Dark seem to mock the it’s-not-my-fault generation, as though actions they commit are completely beyond their control.

This disassociation is paired with an intense self-loathing and –pitying that’s impressive. “The Funeral” opens with a riff on Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35 (the “Funeral March,” of course) accompanied by a soft conga beat and a plodding snare. Then KGB just internalized everything: “Now everything’s ruined/ Just blame it on me … I’ll drive you crazy/ And I’ll make you hate me … Just like a disease/ And there’s no way to treat it.” It is an exploration into what it is to be dark, what makes us dark, what makes some of us fear it, some of us embrace it, and some of us embody it.

In KGB’s case, he has no choice. “I’ll never walk away,” he exhales, “because I’m addicted to the pain.”

The title track, then, is wish-fulfillment, and Moshe signals this with a cheery church organ, joined by an elastic beat that ripples through the mix. As our protagonist offs himself, “death slowly sliding down the back of my throat/ Like a plastic cup of cough medicine,” we almost cheer it. He’s gotten what he wanted, if not necessarily what he deserved.

His soul travels through “Exist Through This,” paired with a two-note keyboard movement like a truncated 2001: A Space Odyssey, before becoming “Residue,” full of a slight right-hand piano and a shuddering and descending guitar line. At this point, denial has completely set in. “Forever I will have to ask myself/ Was there something that I could do/ To prevent you from leaving me/ Without a chance to say goodbye?”

Who’s left whom, now? Mixed way to the back, Sontiago’s voice echoes like a conscience.

It’s no wonder KGB/Syn and Moshe/Whispers (so Moshe’s character is given on the back of the packaging) took more than five years creating this. It is executed precisely from start to finish, is listenable and engaging, and yet occupies a musical genre that should be largely foreign to most listeners. They have introduced an audience to a concept that by all rights should be abhorrent and made it sympathetic, a difficult task, indeed.

It is enough to make an accompanying full album of remixes, Director’s Cut, worth the listen, even if just for the five versions of the title track. The C Money Burns version sounds like it could have been released straight out of 1983 Brooklyn. Highkoo’s is the “Delsym Remix,” which should be amusing for anyone with children.

The package represents 30 tracks of a dark and gloomy artform. Perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Shane Reis: Reis & Shine

Shine on, you crazy rapper

The debut full-length from Shane Reis

Maybe you heard about Martin Manley. A long-time Kansas City sportswriter, he made the extraordinary decision to plan his own suicide 14 months in advance, all the while documenting his life on a web site that went live on the occasion of his death.

It’s interesting that he would at the same time wish to die and effectively live on forever in the annals of the Web, his every interest and familial detail articulated. He was at once documentarian and the guy who shuts off the lights at the end of the show.

There’s something similar going on in hip hop these days, as rappers increasingly create albums that document their interior monologue, hyper-personal introspections over R&B samples and bouncy snares. Further, there are often assurances that said rapper won’t forget his/her upbringing when the big-time hits, that the fire that forged the rapper in question is vital to the forward trajectory of the big hip-hop career and the music, itself.

In other words, you can’t know their music without knowing them.

Shane Reis goes so far as to ponder “what woulda happened if I had died this weekend” late in his debut full-length, Reis & Shine, a 17-track collection of indie-pop contemporary rap, with familiar nods to the soul and funk traditions. On “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” Kristina Kentigian, quickly becoming a studio pro’s pro and piling up credits on local albums (the hip-hop equivalent to a horn section with Ryan Zoidis and Dave Noyes), croons behind the first couple verses, then knocks out a beautifully executed sung verse of her own.

Like Manley and his web site, Reis declares his intentions bluntly, in a cadence like a more-deliberate Bread. “I got a lotta shit to say,” he informs us early on the title and opening track, keeping us up to speed on everything from his age (23) to his foibles: “Hear the people whispering, say I don’t belong.”

It’s not this reviewer’s place to psychoanalyze, but there’s certainly no shortage of fodder here for anyone who might like to take a swing. It’s like he’s lying on the couch laying himself bare.

Heck, in “Human Nature” we get the entire thought process behind whether he should be jealous of his significant other or not. Through one of the more progressive tracks, with back-step beats and an off-time piano cadence, he details the real reason why she decided to put her ring in her purse when out at the club: She didn’t want to lose it like he had done.

Maybe it will strike you as too intimate. Maybe you’ll relate.

The album as a whole is in some ways like De La Soul’s Plug 1 & Plug 2, which is more throwback-‘90s, but similarly delivers a consistent style of hip hop with every track, rather than mixing ballads and bangers or changing up vocal deliveries for effect. You might not have all the songs committed to memory, but every track is very listenable.

Nor do the guest spots by talented MCs like Spose, Lady Essence, Jay Caron and Syn the Shaman overpower their tracks. They mold their flows to Reis’ like a tasteful lead guitar solo.

Essence’s contribution to “Can Your Remember” is particularly sweet (as in: aw shucks), dueting with Reis on a chanted chorus that’s playful and catchy in rap harmony and then giving her side of her friendship with Reis, how the two of them related with their parents and the outside world when Eminem and others infected them while growing up with the need to MC.

Her mother read her rhymes and pronounced, “You need therapy.”

“At heart, we’re still the same kids,” Reis allows, and that’s the ultimate ingredient in making his music successful: It’s genuine. And there is a wonder about it that cuts through any bombast and boasts.

There’s a small part of Reis, maybe, that still doesn’t believe he’s made an album that you can pick up in Bull Moose or buy from iTunes just like “real” rappers. Which means he’s made it for all the right reasons.