Heems – “Eat Pray Thug”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Sometimes” “So NY”

Review also printed on Seroword.com

BRUH. Do you want to get shaken up? Wanna get rattled? Heems’ debut is the album to mess you up.

Queens rapper Heems finally has his debut album out, on his own Greedhead Records (search the name on my blog). He has described the album as “post-9/11 dystopian brown man rap.” Indeed, Himanshu Suri is a phenomenally unique force in hip-hop – a man living in New York who’s proud of his heritage, but also feels ostracized because of his race. And that politically charged motive is all over “Eat Pray Thug.” The songs excel on contradiction – New York is home; I’m driven from home.

The lead-off single, opening track and best song “Sometimes” establishes the discord perfectly, by setting Heems up as a rapper who isn’t taking on a persona. “Sometimes I’m pacifist / Sometimes it’s pass the fist / Sometimes I stay sober/ Sometimes it’s pass the fifth,” he raps about his human qualities. This disconnect is what demands the album work as a whole – on “So NY,” he raps about being so New York-based that, “I still don’t bump Tupac.” But, on most of the songs, especially closer “Patriot Act,” he’s more honest about the racism that he, his family, and others have been through as a Middle Eastern man living in New York City. On “Patriot Act,” he bemoans how life became difficult for many people he knew after 9/11, in a spoken word piece that references stop & frisks and donating to local politicians to stay safe. On “Flag Shopping,” he rhymes ‘flags’ with ‘rags,’ and later raps “They wanna Toby us / Like we Cunta Kinte.” Heems cuts deep with his personal experiences, accurate accusations and brutal truth.

But Heems doesn’t spend the whole album expanding on that. He tries pop songs and ballads, too. On “Pop Songs (Games),” he goes for a genuine, bona fide pop song and, while it’s results aren’t quite spectacular, he’s putting in the effort to diversify his music. And on “Home,” Heems and Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) expertly pull off a ballad (courtesy of the line “Be my remix to Ignition”). Heems hits all boundaries on a relatively short album, expanding a brief time to include everything he can.

“Former Das Racist frontman” “Das Racist head” “Creator of internet rap sensations Das Racist” Uuuuuuuuuugh. Still referring to Heems as being the frontman for Das Racist is like still referring to Conan as being a “Tonight Show” host. It happened, it was great and it was underappreciated, but it’s over. Das Racist hasn’t been a band for something like two and a half years, and it’s time to start recognizing Heems for what he is – an incredibly complex, diverse and talented rapper and entrepreneur. On “Eat Pray Thug,” Heems gives it his all, and nearly everything he throws at the wall sticks. “Eat Pray Thug” is an open, honest and powerful work, one that examines New York City as both a lifestyle and a germ pool. And it proves Heems to be the affronting rapper he’d set himself up to be; ready to grab the throne whenever it’s left unattended. There’s a lot going on, and Heems has a lot to say. We should all be listening.

If you like this, try: Any of the people Heems has signed to Greedhead; namely Le1f, or Lakutis.

The Polyphonic Spree – “Yes, It’s True”

(Photo Credit: Glide Magazine)

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Popular By Design,” “Blurry Up the Lines”

“Yes, It’s True” is the fourth album from the vocal-heavy choral-pop-rock band, a genre that is a lot more conventional and a lot less gospel-influenced than it sounds. The Polyphonic Spree currently sits at twenty members, although the album does at times resemble a normal-sized group. The album is heavy on engrossing music and light on inspiring lyrics, but is frequently worthwhile. Former Tripping Daisy frontman Tim DeLaughter is in total control on this album, perhaps even too much. The collective playing behind him is under his spell, following him through his mixed influences.

The album always falls closer to pop than any other genre. Each track plays out like a typical single from one of DeLaughter’s inspirations, from the Beach Boys to Bright Eyes. “Single” is the important word there, though, because every song on the album is “single” standard. In fact, the album’s lead-off single, “You Don’t Know Me,” is not among the album’s better songs. The music on the album is often standard, fun vocal pop. It is a market that has been tapped many times before, but as long as the product is catchy and retains a little depth, it can be done again and again. There are a few tracks were DeLaughter does a back-and-forth in the chorus, exchanging solo lines with group lines from the musicians. It’s all very fun and inspired. The final track, “Battlefield,” ends with an extended synth fade-out that is meant to sound ominous, but almost comes off as anticipation for wanting to record another album.

Lyrically, the album doesn’t hold up nearly as well. Track titles like “Carefully Try” and “Let Them Be” don’t prepare to offer much lyrically. There is nothing more than basic pop poetry here, which can get repetitive. They even sound less inspired alongside the music. It’s rarely an issue, because the album has enough good spirit to make up for this. Also, pop albums nowadays do not seem to be expected to be poetic masterpieces, so it’s expected in a warped way.

Twenty-piece choral-pop groups are hard to come by, but The Polyphonic Spree are doing something right. They may be a collective – their ‘former members’ page on Wikipedia includes forty-five people, one of them being Annie Clark from St. Vincent – but they are having fun in the studio. And when it comes down to it, that is the key to a successful pop group. Things might not work, but if the listener believes enough in the band, they can look past it. And it is very easy to surpass the faults on “Yes, It’s True” and just enjoy the ride.

If you like this, try: “Here” (2012), the second album by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes. The best of their three, and one that includes a surprising variation of influences into a collective effort.

-By Andrew McNally