Psymun - Pink Label

Minneapolis’ premier up-and-coming producer drops his definitive work.

Additional Info

8.1

ALBUM: Pink Label

ARTIST: Psymun

2014

Hip-Hop/Rap

There are great strides being made in the field of chopping beats since the proliferation of technology and the increasing ease of releasing material, prompting some real innovation from young producers. Among them is Minneapolis’ Psymun, who approaches glitched hip-hop grooves from a perspective that's familiar but still difficult to classify. It's a hybrid of Dilla-style sample-flipping alongside distorted chops and drone psychedelia, packaged as beats but sitting on multiple points of the instrumental music plane. It's immediately ear-catching while remaining strikingly subtle, sure to satisfy fans of various genres with "hop" and a hyphen and birth some new ones.

Pink Label, Psymun's latest solo effort, has a range of vocal guests yet remains primarily an instrumental album. Where verses and choruses lean short, a droning guitar or synth section will feel hypnotically long in length; coupled with the overall slow tempo of the short EP, this is an easy album to get lost within. This is exceptional glo-fi music, likely be remembered as some of the best avant-garde beats of the past few years. It's chill-wave heavy enough to illicit head-nods from the rap side of the aisle, though at times it shares that space only tangentially.

Included is a glimpse of Psymun's new group efforts with The Standard, with vocal appearances from collaborators Allan Kingdom, Bobby Raps, and Spooky Black. K. Raydio, who in December dropped a full-length with Psymun, shows up, along with and rapper Chester Watson. Meanwhile, new guest Kerry Roy of Bad Bad Hats brings a new sound to the table. Each contributor finds a different pocket of Psymun's elastic style, which swings between smokers-lounge R&B, chillwave cloud-rap, and ultra-minimal neo-soul, depending on who's involved. Besting the string of recent instrumental projects he's dropped recently is partially thanks to the increased number of vocalists, who reflect that Psymun is at the center of a scene full of like-minded hip-hop acts with a weird approach.

This is the answer to the question "Turn down for what?". Psymun provides electronic-influenced rap beats that are on the opposite end of the spectrum from the EDM drops of crossover trap. The attention given to the bass end makes it club friendly but Pink Label is laid-back come-down music, perfect for headphones or more intimate listening. Another in a succession of short-form solo projects, the EP format suits him and even seems to influence the style. Psymun will prolong certain waves of sound while cutting vocal portions early after a single verse or phrase, giving songs an intentional sparseness that nevertheless rarely feels incomplete. The quick runtime gives him the freedom to work through ideas without a prescribed sense of resolution, which allows the project to ebb as a singular entity while maintaining some great individual high points.

Working with K. Raydio found Psymun filtering off-kilter production into an R&B format, providing lush backdrops suited to her subtle range; left to his own devices, he seems to guide the work further into experimental territory. It's never so left-field that it alienates, always just off-kilter enough to agitate you into deeper readings. If you're looking simply for beats that bang, you'll be satisfied, but there are returns for those willing to sit with it. You'll notice the details more in this instrumental work, and Pink Label serves as a good entry point as well as a nice addition to the discography for those familiar with the backlog of material.

There's a clarity to Psymun's vision, and even as he reaches in multiple directions, he sustains a particular vibe. It's a truly unique voice in a landscape where so beats play as cookie-cutter. He juggles an array of subgenres so effortlessly that you can barely tell he's doing it. A solid project from front to back, it will likely goad listeners to delve into his larger body of work. It also gives the impression that there's still further he can push.

"Living in the land of the lost, telling folktales"

1. Legalize Suicide
Psymun's meandering introduction has a mesmerizing undercurrent while barely touching on the heavy bass parts he's known for. The drum groove, which often makes his songs by establishing a pattern and hitting hard with the bass, is almost absent here, building a tension that enhances the eventual synth progression that enters about halfway through. It's noisy and intricately composed, but can nonetheless feel like strictly an intro track despite being the second longest on the project. Not something I'd put on a mix or play in a set but worth a listen when giving Pink Label a full listen.7.5
2. Talk 2 Me
We hear a piano loop dusty as a ‘78 record and suddenly the crisp drums come in, the contrast clicking once Kerry Roy of Bad Bad Hats’ voice brings everything together. The project's strongest, it's a kind of a trip-hop masterpiece, at least in terms of anything released in the last five to ten years that's been aiming for a sound like this. The vocal style is very unique and sinks into Psymun's production for some outstanding avant-pop that deserves to be a hit.9.0
3. Maps
Chester Watson is a sixteen-year old rapper who is incredibly talented, and that alone may be part of the reason why I perhaps unfairly compared his style to the hyper-literate drawl of Earl Sweatshirt. The tightly contorted wordplay is really all that sounds shared here, “Maps” instead recalling some of the sleepily spit flows heard on Watson's massive twenty-eight-song debut Tin Wookie. It's a spurt of intricate rhyming that's over before you know it. Chester and Psymun share a method that doesn't show it's full hand, cutting the song off early with the sense that they could hit the same stride for far longer.8.5
4. Eating Disorder
The slow flow of the beat takes a great loop and lets Psymun's sidechain effect emphasize the bass until the song has run its course. The pacing gives the tempo an off feel that finds a groove when the drums enter. It's not a standout per se but it fits well among the other tracks as a mid-album excursion. It sounds like it wouldn't feel out of place on NOT PINK LABEL or heartsick either, and the highlights of Pink Label are the moments where Psymun’s formula is either broken or further drawn out.7.5
5. OK
"ok" accentuates the detailing behind Psymun's beats that can often lie just out of focus. King Krule post-rock guitar plays alongside field recordings, which have been present on every song so far but really given attention here. You can tell when an artist writes their music to intentionally prompt multiple listens, because once the vocal samples kick in it you realize there's a lot going on. And there has been, go back and listen to the last song and hear those hiccups and looped found sounds buried in the dust and heavy bass.8.0
6. Cold In Here/Koolaid
The longest song on the project actually points out how short the other tracks are. This is a two-song track, and when the busy introductory instrumental gives way to a fuzzily recorded conversation, hearing Allan Kingdom singing "I need your Kool-Aid" in a startlingly captivating falsetto catches your ear as a pleasant surprise. Singer K. Raydio, whose collaborative album with Psymun was a triumph for understated R&B, plays the background—maybe too much. The downfall of the short song structure, which is otherwise to the album's credit, is sometimes a really good song feel like an interlude. Allan Kingdom holds down a nice lead vocal part where I might have expected K. Raydio to handle harmonic duties, but really she sits barely there in the wings of the chorus. Kingdom's free-floating vocals ends on strong lyrics ("I need your dessert/Even if it left me hurt") that highlight how the song seems loosely approached but slowly reveals itself as a unique take on rap singing.8.5
7. Blind
More St. Paul falsetto, with young viral singer Spooky Black and a rap verse from Bobby Raps. These three make up a group called The Standard with Allen Kingdom, which sounds more like this than the last Kingdom appearance. The beat is relatively simple structurally, allowing the reverberated vocals and down-tempo raps to take the reigns of the track. The duo do well over this material, though it seems to bring out a melancholy or a bitterness in lyrics. Bobby's been getting into the Thugger-influenced kiss-off song game, and Black's been vibing in this sort of down-tempo-croon headspace, and the pair sound good molding their strengths to Psymun's warped R&B.8.0
8. Where U Go
The synth progressions end up taking center stage here over a beat that stays steady but incorporates the sorts of off sounds that often accompany worn cassette tape. It's a middling track within the framework of the record but would stand out among other producer's work, looping a click-clack beat that gets slowly buried under a wash of synths and background noises.7.5
9. Pinklabel
Subtle fuzz guitar plays just underneath the groove of the drums, but by the time the vocal sample hits somewhere towards the tail-end of the song, Psymun fleshes out some of the spacey aspects and makes it satisfying denouement to the album. Why the title track was left as bonus material is unclear but it's a decent stand-alone that encapsulates some of the best spaces the Pink Label inhabits.8.0
10. Talk 2 Me (Sloslylove Remix)
Sloslylove and Psymun share some stylistic traits, but Sloslylive drives "Talk 2 Me" in his own direction, looping certain vocal parts and warping the background sound beneath the 80's sheen of the drum machine. Syncopated hi-hats and cowbell flourishes make this seem to be in less experimental territory, up until the background sounds begin to melt behind the straight-ahead club beat. Longer than the original, this one is the "more" that the original left you wanting.8.5
Written by Jack Spencer
A freelance music writer from Minneapolis that has been featured in the City Pages, Bitch Magazine, 2DopeBoyz, The AV Club, Consequence of Sound, Thought Catalog, and more.

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