After many delays, teasers, and anticipation on the part of his listeners, Gramatik releases his most extensive work to date, Age of Reason, a 15 track LP he has assembled over the past year. Here I say assembled intentionally, as opposed to produced, in that Age of Reason was produced on the road over a period of heavy touring for Gramatik and the new jack artists on his fledgling Low Temp label. The resultant tracks of this period have been assembled onto Age of Reason. As a compiled album, Age of Reason and the essence of its production is akin to Griz’s Rebel Era. “Road Albums” are novel conception in the world of EDM, and cannot truly be compared in the same breath with more involved studio albums, whose intensive composition is a more singular process, requiring a much higher level of attention from the general, nothing-and-yet-possible-everything environment of studio. While lacking the complexity of studio albums, road albums still make good with a crowd and satisfy insatiable demand for new material. Hey, anyone who tours as much as Gramatik needs to maintain his audience.
Therefore, if you get into Age of Reason, and have been to a few Gramatik shows in the past year, like me, I’ll sure you’ll recognize many of the tracks. Most are still banging, owing to Gramatik’s consistency with composing some of the funkiest, hardcore Hip-Hop hooks. “Torture” especially, imparts itself upon the memory with the utter simplicity of a wrenching blues riff. Hip-hop has always hooked with simplicity, the structures are typically uncomplicated and redundant, though seem anything but. The difficulty of making good Hip-hop lies in perfecting a hook that resonates with a listener as beautifully simple, and thus simply beautiful. If thats what you’re looking for when you cop a Gramatik release, check out “Prime Time” as well.
These more classic tracks are hardly the only good aspect of Age of Reason. On others, like “You Don’t Understand” and “Pardon My French” bring Gramatik even farther away from his comfort with head bobbing electro hip-hop, and towards the higher tempo chaos of electrohouse that he delved into on #digitalfreedom. These new tracks are further testament to a broadening range of styles in his repertoire which continues to grow, owing to his consistency with engaging sample mashes and glitchy breaks. It’s easy to get excited about such tracks as they defy strict genre classification, and besides, are highly danceable- a welcome kick at the shows where the higher tempos elevate the energy beyond electro Hip-hop.
I’m not of the tribe of Gramatik detractors who dislike his tampering with heavy synthesis and multiple genres, and scream for a return to the “old school” vibe of Street Bangers. Sound manipulation seems to be the natural course for producers like Gramatik who have exhausted the options on their TR-808 and want to continue innovating their music in order to lead fans into appreciation for other sub-genres of EDM. As such, I can’t see that Age of Reason suffers much from problems with aesthetic; to my ear, its completely pristine, easy listening.
My qualms with Age of Reason stem otherwise from a lack of more the more meaningful, progressive arrangements present on former albums. Progression has been sacrificed in part on Age of Reason for meandering jams. Gramatik’s composed phrases are still funky, still brilliant, but don’t seem to culminate in much when belabored in exhaustive repetitions within more instrumental jams.
Most the albums deficiencies can be sourced to Gramatik’s chosen collaborators. While Gibbz, Exmag, and Cherub are technically good musicians in their own right, they don’t seem to add much to a Gramatik track. I say this from my own conscience and after watching Gibbz clear 3/4 of the crowd when Gramatik brought him on stage at Tommorrowworld. I understand that promotion is promotion and albeit, necessary, but promotion must be altogether prudent, lest it cut against the grain of the promoter.
Gramatik has long enjoyed status within electro hip-hop as a producer who adheres to certain tenants of classic Hip-hop in that his beats, and furthermore tracks, were more the productions of one man with a sampler and pad bank. Producers have always more akin to composers, while the DJ’s have become the “band member” side of electronic music. While electronic shows may lack a certain live element, anyone who knows the best of Gramatik is looking for production quality more than show quality. As such, we can forgive his shortcomings as a DJ and find his live guitarist largely superfluous. I scratch my head in the crowd when I hear the stems of guitar hooks left in the track, falling right where I’d have them and they are followed by the excessive arpeggios from live guitar. This is similar to how he handles the collaborators on the album. He could put everything together himself, but instead chooses to cut his track out, and let someone drop a riff over it. In the same fashion, Collaborators riff all over Age of Reason.
Overall, Age of Reason, is quite an indecisive album by Gramatik, a man moving in all directions at once; exceeding in most of his more personal experimental forays but losing quality when he incorporates others. Perhaps the fractured nature of Age of Reason can be attributed to the demands of the new electronic scene with an identity crisis, a scene that now encompasses everyone from hippies to ravers, and hip-hop heads. Any listener from this broad listening landscape will find something they like on Age of Reason, its true, but the eclectic, divided assemblage that is the album makes it hard for one to feel 100% on it, unless you approach holding no personal taste, or as a “fanboy”, two equally silly stances to take, as neither could be called a stance at all.
Electronic music is the only art form that has given me unrelenting hope for the survival of our species. I study criticism in the north country and track the scene in an effort to put to words the familiar feelings that escape most of us and are reduced to terms of “awesomeness.”