Album Review: Doomtree, 'All Hands'


Doomtree, 'All Hands'
Doomtree's album 'All Hands' releases Jan. 27, 2015. (© 2015 Doomtree Records.)

At this point the members of Doomtree have done such a good job establishing themselves as solo artists that creating a new full-crew album presents an interesting challenge: With so many distinct voices in the mix, what does it sound like when they go back to the drawing board to create something as a group?

There's an old music writing cliché that says that in order for a collaboration to succeed, the final product should be greater than the sum of its parts. But with Doomtree, there seems to be a law of averages at work; with such large strides being made between each solo Dessa, P.O.S., Sims, and Mike Mictlan album, and with Cecil Otter's, Lazerbeak's, and Paper Tiger's production abilities evolving rapidly from year to year, there's an expectation that all of that individual growth will be visible in every situation and configuration, whether they are performing separately, in pairs, with other artists, or all together.

The good news about All Hands is that it sounds like a Doomtree record. At this point it would be impossible to combine those signature apocalyptic beats from Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger with the five different MCs' dizzying lyrical handiwork and end up with it sounding like anyone else. There are definitely moments on All Hands that feel like they were tailor-made to be performed at a Blowout (or whatever big event the crew comes up with next), like the squawking bass beat drops in "Generator," the jittery round-robin format of "Gray Duck" and the war-buddies mentality of the road-warrior anthem "80 on 80." And the five MCs have rarely came out swinging so furiously as they do on the bombastic "Cabin Killer," with Sims shouting-out Big Freedia and the beat somersaulting and then exploding like one of those molotov cocktails that P.O.S. always raps about. It's going to be so fun to get down to that song live.

By the end of the album, however, the 13 tracks feel a little too cohesive. In Doomtree's earlier days, one got the impression that the support and friendly competition the seven members discovered in one another was propelling them all forward and inspiring them to get better and better at their crafts. On All Hands, one gets the sense that their desire to create a unifying piece of art was actually holding each of them back; by the end of the album, the pacing of the album and cyclical nature of each of their flows starts to feel repetitive and hypnotic.

Speaking to NPR this week, Dessa and P.O.S. drove home the point that getting all seven members of Doomtree in a cabin for a few days to write an album together is a challenge. But what seems like an even bigger challenge for the crew right now is finding something that all seven of them want to collectively express.

Working the independent, underground rap game as tirelessly as Doomtree does requires constant effort and constant output, and you can hardly knock the crew for stepping up to the plate to smack another album into the outfield. All Hands is a fine album, and plenty of these songs are sure to endure in the live setting. It is tempting, though, to imagine what kind of album Doomtree could make at this point in their career if they had the luxury of waiting until they had something really powerful to say — and had taken the extra time to wind up and knock it out of the park.

What do you think of the album? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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