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Cashmere Cat - Princess Catgirl Music Album Reviews

The Norwegian producer invents a Vocaloid-inspired feline character and retreats from the spotlit pop of his last album, returning to the introspective hush of his earlier work.
After all these years, Cashmere Cat is still shy. The musician born Magnus August Høiberg has nearly a decade of prismatic productions under his belt, which has led to appearances on the big stages at EDM festivals, collaborations with childhood heroes, and studio time with the biggest pop stars in the world. On some level, Høiberg has had to adjust to the practicalities that this success requires. He once wouldn’t even do in-person interviews, but a few years ago he finally decided to open up about his life story in a music video. One would imagine he’s no longer hiding in a bathroom, as a friend of his once described, when DJ Khaled unexpectedly turns up at the studio.

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EarthGang - Mirrorland Music Album Reviews

The debut album from Spillage Village founders Olu and WowGr8 is a whimsical, theatrical attempt to capture the inexhaustible magic of Atlanta.

One of the most impressive feats of Donald Glover’s surrealist FX show Atlanta is how it captures the sheer multiplicity of the city’s many characters. The dope dealer turned rising rapper is managed by his homeless Princeton dropout cousin, whose Afro-German girlfriend is a grade-school science teacher with a homegirl who scams pro athletes; it’s on and on like that down to the most minor roles. Atlanta has often been dubbed Black Mecca, in part for the wide swath of black identities it fosters. Among the inheritors of this broad lineage is EarthGang, an ATL duo comprised of rappers Olu (also known as Johnny Venus) and WowGr8 (also known as Doctur Dot), founders of the wide-ranging Spillage Village collective that includes J.I.D., 6LACK, Mereba, Lute, and more. Their debut album, Mirrorland, released on the heels of their Dreamville label’s touted compilation Revenge of the Dreamers III, longs to be a black world unto itself.

Mirrorland was inspired by The Wiz, the all-black 1978 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz featuring music produced by Quincy Jones for Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Lena Horne. “Atlanta is the Land of Oz,” Olu said in July. “It’s black people just being unafraid and unapologetically creative. Just running around being themselves.” The album certainly has the whimsy and spectacle of a musical, and it’s clear Olu and WowGr8 consider themselves unapologetically creative, too, but there is the sense that this is less about them and more about honoring that down-home creative spark. There is a theatricality to the music, as if they are donning personas and performing bits, paying homage to the many types of people they encounter and the place that produces them. The scope of Mirrorland is wide enough to capture the inexhaustible magic of Atlanta.

The songs on Mirrorland are clear attempts to chart the city’s diverse sound. They are rich and constantly shifting and evolving. Produced by Olu, Elite, DJ Dahi, Bink!, Childish Major, and others, this is EarthGang’s most complete record and their most unpredictable one. It is as captivating as it is unusual. When the songs don’t erupt into full-on parades like the groovy hoodoo opener “LaLa Challenge,” they split open into alternate arrangements, like “This Side,” its rippling synths receding to uncover slapping drum programming. The album can swing from funk-rap to trap so quickly that it almost inherently reveals how these styles trace back to the same roots. The shifts are anchored by the two rappers, who dictate the flow with their larger-than-life styles and their flamboyant execution. Some of that performance is at the expense of more personal songwriting. There’s nothing as reflective as the songs on their EP trilogy, Rags, Robots, and Royalty. In place of rapping that communicates more of their individual identities, madcap demonstration takes the fore.

Both Olu and WowGr8 can rattle off semi-automatic raps or bellow tuneful chants, or even fuse the two together, as they do on “Top Down.” Olu leans into the cartoonishness of his voice a bit more, while WowGr8 has the conversational tone of a rambler. Both are prone to breaking out into song at any moment, channeling gospel soul or freaky country-fried blues. Their eclecticism and their risk-taking ways are indebted to OutKast; their music, less so. It’s a comparison they’ve gotten almost constantly, and an unfair one, really. They aren’t the rappers André and Big Boi are, nor are they the storytellers. Their relationship to one another is a parallel, oddball to oddball, as opposed to free spirit to pragmatist. Big Boi kept André weighted to the ground; neither here is a tether to Earth, so there’s nothing preventing them both from drifting out into space. But it’s better for them this way. No one can be OutKast, and EarthGang’s unrestrained looseness gives them free rein to do and try just about anything.

The ideas sprawled across Mirrorland are mostly in service of songcraft, adding color and texture to their vibrant visions of a super-black Emerald City. It’s Atlanta rap fantasia, manifold in form and style, each track a new, distinctive set design in the production. There’s the trumpeting Afrobeat sashay of “Tequila,” the throwback neo-soul of “Blue Moon,” the out-there BTG-ish balladry of “Proud of U” (with Young Thug in tow). The songs aren’t necessarily about anything in particular, and none of the writing really grabs you, though it does usually contain kernels of insight (“Nigga that you hatin’ on probably got something he could teach your corny ass/While you in the corner grindin’ teeth,” WowGr8 raps on “Avenue”). The album works because of its holism, the sense that its songs make up an entire picture. “Cinematic” is a word they’ve used to describe Mirrorland, but EarthGang’s album isn’t 2D, it’s multidimensional—a marauder’s map of Atlanta as a black paradise.

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