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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Milo/Elucid - Nostrum Grocers Music Album Reviews

Having evolved from his early days as art rap’s cocky philosopher in chief, milo displays a newfound confidence alongside Elucid, a grittier and more seasoned lyricist.

Rory Ferreira, who records as milo, is at his best when his songs tilt and wobble between confident and cocky. milo has evolved from his early days as art rap’s philosopher in chief (the cocky), more recently sharpening his gaze on fatherhood and blackness in America (the confident). He’s saving the Schopenhauer bars for another day.

Last year’s who told you to think??!!?!?!?! oscillated between both ends of the spectrum, including both love letters written to rap and knotty digressions on metaphysics. At times, it’s too easy to see the gears of milo’s didactic rap style turning. This is why his work as Scallops Hotel has been more readily approachable than the milo discography. It’s free-associative, touching on and pulling from whatever avenues Ferreira feels like strolling down. In this informal setting, his greatest strength as a rapper—his wit—shines through. Freed from the self-imposed brilliance attached to the milo project, the pressure seems to disappear. This makes his new LP, Nostrum Grocers, with New York-based rapper Elucid, all the more exciting: With another rapper around to do some of the heavy lifting, milo’s able to slip in some of his smartest, brightest ideas without ever crumbling under the weight of his own intelligence.

Elucid and milo first linked up in 2014 as guests on the same online radio show and immediately began brainstorming ideas for an album together. It wasn’t until three years later, a month after the release of who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, that the rappers got together in Brooklyn to begin working on the album. Recorded mostly over two days, Nostrum Grocers is the sort of loose-but-serious gold both rappers have banked their careers on.

Elucid, about 10 years older than milo, is the guiding light for Nostrum Grocers’ thematic scope. Elucid’s stark depictions present him as a vessel into a broken world, one able to conjure up stories of poverty and institutional racism like a ghost of housing projects past, internalizing these ills and illuminating them so the rest of us can see. He often deploys a low growl, giving his delivery an air of desperation. On Nostrum Grocers, Elucid’s jab-jab-cross of a voice helps give the record its precise and rumbling aggression.

The LP is at its best when the electricity between milo and Elucid takes precedence over individual bars that sometimes flirt with excessive cleverness. On “circumcision is the first betrayal,” the two feed off each other’s verses over a hard-hitting drum groove and free-floating sirens pushed to the distance. Elucid raps, “I’m no fatalist/Real black/Like save the bacon grease,” before milo asks, “Would it be fitting to sing a requiem as the trap door closes/Redundant like Black Moses/Abomunist newscast/I’m watching wide-eyed eating a gallon on Moose Tracks.” It’s fascinating to watch these two stylists peel back the layers of each other’s words in executing their respective visions.

Elucid’s intuitive knack for blending dense lyricism with melody rubs off on milo, whose solo records have occasionally featured uniform flows that can veer toward stasis. Here, milo’s brought a sharpening stone for his weapon. On “’98 gewehr” his voice has a sardonic energy, and his effortlessly scathing delivery gives his lines a deadly menace. He goes after rappers past with a hunger and confidence he’s never displayed on other milo-related releases, shaping his previously laid-back flow into sharpened darts: “Greatness is to act with no security/Your whole span was a blur to me/Y’all rap with no urgency,” he snarls, and it’s easy to believe him.

Produced entirely by the two emcees, Nostrum Grocers is a collaboration between two rappers who occupy near-opposite ends of the art-rap spectrum. As each moves towards the middle, the happy medium becomes less a compromise than the best possible result—an impressive feat of interiority projected back out onto the world.

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