Local rap group Abzorbr, which blends live instruments with laptop noise and spoken word with singing and rapping, is on the frontier of hip-hop sounds.
The title of the group’s first full-length album, “Capable of Teetering,” sums up their current position in the world of hip-hop: Abzorbr is dangerously close to successfully merging live drums, electric guitar, bass and other instruments into an addicting hip-hop beat, but can’t quite get over the hump.
ALBUM: “Capable of Teetering”
Most of the music on the album sounds similar, with little variation in the tempo and the instrumentation used to create the background sounds.
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It is when Abzorbr breaks away from this comfortably slow and predictable beat and the usual lineup of instruments and computer sounds that they reveal their potential for crossing a new frontier.
The song “Private Permission” best displays Abzorbr’s abilities to mix things up. This track displays the range and talent of Abzorbr’s vocalist, Chris Keller, who opens the song by hurling words over a quiet and naked beat.
The tempo of this song is not a departure from the previous tracks, but the sound is stripped down to the essentials, leaving just a drum set, bass and quietly mystical sounds off the laptop. This bare sound allows the track’s intensely emotional lyrics to become the focus and guide the song.
Keller’s vocals and lyrics are the backbone of the album. They range from whiny and manic to drawn-out and brooding. He understands how to use his voice as a versatile instrument, demonstrating a different sound on each track of the album. Keller’s voice and expression lend a depressing and dark edge to the words. He appears to understand how to manipulate his voice to fully flesh out the emotion and sound that the background music is attempting to create.
Regardless of how he presents his lyrics, his words themselves are intelligent and thought-provoking, smart and intricate. Each listen reveals new snippets of words that were lost in previous plays.
On “Thorn Picks Rose,” one of the rare examples of musical variation on the album, he chants the chorus over music that could pass as the soundtrack to a carnival horror movie.
The song closes with Keller repeating, almost emotionlessly, “Roses are better than ever before, roses are better, no one will win.” This track is haunting and hard to listen to, but only because it is so perfectly done.
“Routine Lovers” is another showcase for Keller’s lyrical gifts, with lines such as, “It’s like how much of yourself do you really have to kill/ To make a little part of us feel alive?/ Enough to fill each other up before/ We spill all over each other/ And make a mess too beautiful/ For either of us to hide.”
The song couples these smart ideas with Keller’s dead-on intuition for timing. He knows when to draw out an idea through singing or speaking and when to frantically and emotionally rap a thought.
Another example of Abzorbr’s lyric-writing talent comes on the track “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Conflict.” Keller paces the lyrics with a mix of spoken word and fast, yet surprisingly clear, rapping.
Like many tracks on “Capable of Teetering,” this one features Keller’s vocals and lyrics above and before all else. It starts with Keller whispering over quiet and slow drums.
If Keller’s performance is the strongest and most developed part of Abzorbr’s act, then their will to experiment with their sound is what keeps them merely teetering on the edge of greatness.
Experimentation is harder with live instruments than with a laptop loaded down with thousands of different sounds, instruments and clips. The live band aspect works for Abzorbr, but everything starts to sound the same after a few tracks because there is little variation in the instruments used and the way they are played.
“Capable of Teetering” shows the potential of this emerging local group. The good tracks sparkle like gems among the predictable and uninteresting ones. It’s clear that Abzorbr can see the hip-hop frontier, but they have not figured out how to move from merely teetering on the edge to tumbling over it.