I’m sorry it took so longTHE FIRST WORDS STEF SPEAKS
My answer would be,
no problem, it was worth it.
To just flat-out say that this record is one of the most forward-thinking releases I’ve ever heard, (not just in hip-hop) would be an understatement. My personal connection with P.O.S’ music has been, significant, to say the least. He is one of those rare artists that push boundaries in a way that just fits, with me. From the moment Ipecac Neat graced my ears I was firmly planted in his direction, eagerly waiting to see what happens next.
Often insightful, dense, abstract lyrical passages soar over equally dense, often beautifully epic, drum-heavy beat passages. These 16 new offerings are something special.
From the beginning of Let It Rattle, my face reflected pure joy and marvel. Incredible chorus, beautifully constructed beat, subtle background elements, and strong lyrical content. Stef has always been able to emit sincerity in his music. The little intricacies are what strike me most. From the back-and-forth banter between him and another emcee or engineer Joe Mabbot, it’s always genuine. I relate to his music because of this if nothing more. This is the biggest flaw with most mainstream music period. It lacks conviction, sincerity, passion and emotion. Those are four things that P.O.S. has never lacked.
They hide their eyes and can’t describe what they’ve been missing / They fire blind and can’t describe what they’ve been laying-down / But they laying down
Off to the 2nd leaked track, Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty) starts off with a powerful force. The verbal assault flies off almost a capella expressing his frustration with everything. This is a common theme throughout P.O.S’s music – the unease he feels with a heap of passionless people.
Savion Glover presents a slightly refined beat and scratching by Mike2600 from the version that appeared on 2007’s Doomtree’sFalse Hopes compilation. It is a welcomed refinement. Hypnotic, pounding beat with verse after verse, then dances off clean like..well, you know.
Purexed finds Stef at his most vocally-naked to date, for the first minute, until a full-on onslaught of drums engulfs your ears for just the right amount of noise beside the introspective white-space. On second verse a sparse drum beat starts up in the backdrop. The subtleties followed by more relentless moments.
Graves (We Wrote the Book) starts out with a slight drone and moves into drum breaks followed by rhymes about desperation and social insights.
The first single, Goodbye might be P.O.S’s most radio-friendly track to date, which shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. It is a well-constructed and catchy track, offering more commentaries on society and inner-culture.
Get Smokes is a return to more intricate production, offering interesting sound fills as the backdrop to his sparse delivery. Abstract, funked-out bass frenzy right here. “My name is Stef” and more cracked-out funk goodness.
Been Afraid follows a journey to dark places drenched in abusive love and torment, providing one of the strongest hooks on the album. His delivery is perfect. “We ain’t gotta go through nothing alone.”
Low Light Low Life has a more bouncy feel with 1980’s synth samples (almost like an altered Law & Order theme tweak).Sims starts off (great to hear him!), followed by a nice Cecil Otter chorus starter intoP.O.S’s main chorus, then Dessa’s sick verse (really great) and lastly P.O.S’s turn.
It’s the end of Law & Order.
The Basics is a chaotic mess of a beat, frantic, uneasy with a droned out vocal samples and shifts into wicked crunchy break-beats. On first listen this was the only track that didn’t overly impress me. The chorus just doesn’t completely work for me – maybe it’s the delivery, all laid-back and lazy. On second thought, now after several listens I really dig this track.
Out of Category offers a great story but loses me with the annoying“I’m Out of Category” vocal sample. Since I first heard this track live, I hoped he’d ditch the prominence of the sample because I just don’t dig it. It almost has the feel of an attempt at a Lil’ Wayne “A Milli”-likeBangladesh beat approach…but just doesn’t work. I can’t believe I mentioned Lil’ Wayne in a P.O.S. review but whatever, I feel the comparison is warranted. I know Warn will at least agree, right? Again, though, a great story being told in the lyrics but I really hate the sample.
Optimist (We Are Not For Them) offers one of the most interesting and innovative raw man-made beats (cups and hand-claps!) I’ve heard. It’s very organic and works extremely well.
Terrorish has a straight crazy complex beat structure that shifts as much as the barrage of vocal deliveries. P.O.S’s flow is straight bonkers. Great backup vocals provide so much emotion and depth to the track. Then you have a full-out punked-out vocal onslaught on the back-end and it’s unbelievable. Brilliant track!
There’s eyes in the back of my head / I want em’ blinded!
On to the title-track, Never Better starts out with sparse drums and a heart-beat-like pulsating beat, into a fast over-stepping delivery into fantastic backing vocals. This track emits the force of an accelerating train until the chorus allows it to let up.
The Brave and The Snake has a hypnotic, sitting ‘round a campfire feel, emitting droned vocal samples and a beat that builds until yet another vocal onslaught. Ridiculously fast, complex delivery leaves little room for the backdrop to escape. Then it let’s up and again….relentless building to epic vocal barrages.
The hidden track, HandMade HandGun features the guest vocal stylings of Astronautalis (in a collaboration with P.O.S.) and as a friend describes them, “sounding like a crazy person”..ha so true. This track and the last track “Story of My Life” on Astronautalis’ latest release, “Pomegrante”, feature the duo, and offers a glimpse of what their reported full-length collaboration record might sound like. Astronautlis is really great when he raps and I’d like to hear a whole “rap album” from him someday. I like it.
Overall, Never Better offers your ears a relationship similar to an ocean shore and the ocean. Waves of sound ebb and flow, crash and drift away. This is a significant installment into the evolution of Stefon Leron Alexander. Mostly brilliant, extremely forward-thinking approach to music. He has cultivated his own style, his own voice, his own approach. Stef knows where to put whitespace, like any great artist spanning any medium, he constructs backdrops that work unbelievably well with his ever-expanding vocal delivery repertoire.
I love everything about it…even when it doesn’t completely work it is light-years ahead of most music released.
So there is my non-reviewer-like review. I don’t consider myself a great writer or one to excel at forming succinct thoughts on albums, but I do enjoy sharing my opinions. Maybe my thoughts could be more refined with just that, more refinement but I like to live a bit raw.
I will be firmly planted, always, eagerly awaiting his next offering.
For a thoroughly well-constructed review, please check out Chris DeLine’s review located here.
Album highlights: Let it Rattle, Purexed, Been Afraid, Terrorish, Optimist (We Are Not For Them).