Dark Time Sunshine are producer Zavala and MC Onry Ozzborne. The duo have released several previous albums (I would recommend ‘Vessel’ that came out in 2010) but ANX has probably been their biggest release this far into their career.
ANX is distinctively influenced by rock music which seems to be a growing feature in experimental and original hip-hop. Throughout there are some very sweet bass lines – particularly on the opener ‘Hosanna in the Highest’ and second track ‘ Can’t Wait’ and the percussion and beats have strong roots in drum-kit set ups. Zavala has had numerous accolades for his previous work and ANX is no exception to this because the beats, samples and melodies are all fresh and innovative. There is always a lot of space on tracks for the backing music to work and unfold although this can be overly long at times. There are some more minimal moments however, ‘Rock Off’ and ‘Take My Hand’ both exhibit reduced percussive features and a small bass synth which also work very well. The album does trend towards using Aesop Rock/Brother Ali style instrumentation less as it progresses though which at times was to the detriment of some songs. Yet, ANX left me with the impression Zavala had a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve but equally was prepared to keep bringing new ideas in no matter how abstract or experimental. If you listen to this through headphones I believe you get a better idea of this because the sounds really bounce around.
But let’s not forget about Onry Ozzborne’s lyrics. Ozzborne’s work with Grayskul has always been interesting so I had high expectations for ANX. Ozzborne’s lyrical content revolves around (although not exclusively) anxiety, self-identity, wider social attitudes, the negative aspects of popular culture to name a few. Alongside Ozzborne there are a few guest features from Aesop Rock and Busdriver and P.O.S to name a few which are all enjoyable but at times I felt that Ozzborne should have featured a little more, I think 10/14 tracks have a guest – which is fine, there was a range of different guest roles, but Ozzborne is strong on his own too, he has a great voice and his personality comes through the music with ease. One of my favourite lines is ‘I left the TV on so I could think’. The guest features are successful though, the Busdriver feature on ‘Look at what the cat did’ is excellent, as is Swamburger who has a blistering verse on ‘Take My Hand’. But this brings up an issue I had with this album which was the tempo; most of the album is at a mid-tempo and there are points when the content of the lyrics, for example on ‘I’ll be damned’ would have had a greater impact with a little more urgency in the speed and delivery. In ‘I’ll be damned’ the lack of urgency in the track come off a little preachy which is an issue I have with some hip-hop that tries to be too worldly or positive. But, this varies ‘Look Forwards’ is one of the stronger tracks on the album in my opinion because it (subjectively) is very observational and I found that Ozzborne’s lyrical strength came from observations and comments – Aesop Rock style – rather than his first person work which was definitely successful too but not necessarily as intricate – ANX is a great dark coverage of a psychological history. Nevertheless, the word play and lyricism is innovative and genuinely challenging, I would say more about this but I think it takes multiple listens to get to grips with lyrical content on any erudite hip-hop record of which this is no exception.
I did have issues with some of the song structures though because there were times when instrumentals went on a little too long, usually at the end of a track followed by a new exit section which always seemed to pick up the pace and was a really interesting, abstract section. I’m thinking about ‘Prarie Dog Day’ here which was a very good track but then the above took place which seemed incongruous. Additionally, there was a production technique of layering some of the vocals on specific words which became a little superfluous, less would have been more here. What I like about this album is the amount of material covered and the number of ideas bought in but obviously some of these will stick and some will not, on ‘Take My Hand’ for example which I liked a lot, there were a few r&b and mainstream (loosely) synth sounds coming in that detracted from the song.
Criticisms made though, this is experimental and thoughtful hip-hop with excellent production.