VAULT is a new weekly review series run by Ansel Wakamatsu (that’s me!). I’ll be checking out music, film and television, whether they be new releases or old favourites.
If you don’t know who Wun Two is, I don’t blame you. I was unaware of his very presence until my girlfriend introduced me to his bliss-inducing instrumental hip-hop a couple of months prior. When trying to carry out some research for this review, the elusiveness of this man became quite clear. The producer’s Soundcloud bio didn’t give me any clues; it simply read “flying through your neighbourhood in hyperspeed.” His Bandcamp bio was ever more brief. “Germany.” I then punched in “Wun Two reviews,” which returned two promising leads, and a Yelp page for a Chinese eatery in Missouri. To my dismay, the two reviews both turned out to be less than three sentences long. I then visited his Facebook page for more clues. The only information on his About page was the genre, where Wun Two had put in ‘gemütlich’. Google Translate spit out nineteen results: cozy, comfortable, homey, friendly, relaxed, unhurried…you get the gist.
Wun Two’s four previous releases all follow a similar style. Rio, Penthouse, Waves, and Snow are all beat tapes; that is, fifteen to thirty-five minute records featuring instrumental hip-hop tracks which are no more than two and a half minutes in duration. They aren’t full songs per se, rather an amalgam of nostalgic samples looped repeatedly over drums and a deep synth bass. The albums play like a gallery of unfinished musical ideas. Both beautiful and ephemeral, each song fades in and out of each other, setting a hypnotic rhythm perfect for a one-man Sunday morning bliss out session. Wun Two’s 2014 releases Rio and Penthouse are the finest examples of the producer’s creative chops, where each album showcases a range of beats tied together by a single concept. In Rio, Wun Two fuses hip-hop with Bossa Nova and Brazilian jazz. Gorgeous guitars, plinking pianos and fluttering flutes embellish this record and soar over the trademark Wun Two rhythm; a subdued, slightly staggered quad beat played at a cruisey 80 bpm or thereabouts. In contrast, Penthouse clearly paints a scene where bourgeois folk chum about at an intimate Upper East Manhattan dinner party whilst the butler, Maurice, plays a little ditty on the baby grand. Both albums share the characteristic of evoking an endlessly romantic past, with warbled samples, jazzy instrumentation, and the sound of crackling vinyl making an appearance on most if not all of the beats. The albums are an escapist’s dream, and the atmospheric grooves prove to be irresistible. In comparison, Wun Two’s 2015 releases (Waves and Snow) are conceptually lacklustre, however there is still beauty to be found in tracks like Frio where the producer pulls out all the stops. With a slew of church bells, sleigh bells, and strings which sound like they’ve been ripped straight out of the It’s A Wonderful Life soundtrack, the track paints one of the dreamiest Christmas landscapes imaginable.
Now to 2016. Earlier this year, Wun Two released Better Than Fiction Too, a collaboration album with NYC rapper, Junclassic. I was quite excited by the prospect of an album which marked an evolution from the producer’s previous beat tapes, and I was anticipating a more musically complete project. Wun Two’s previous efforts with rappers often seem like novelty releases, like the hotel bar jazz remix of 50 Cent’s In Da Club, or The Fat EP which fuses ethereal beats with Biggie Smalls’ greatest hits. However, Better Than Fiction Too was Wun Two’s first legit full length album (in a language that I understand), and I expected a development in terms of musical style. In previous projects, Wun Two created music which invited listener to disengage. The slow tempo and incessant loops would naturally fall into the background; whether you were driving, studying, or cruising down a slow moving stream on a black inner tube, Wun Two would be there to provide the soundtrack.
What I wanted in Better Than Fiction Too was music that captured me and held my attention. It would be unfair to say Junclassic and Wun Two completely failed to deliver. The album flows well and has a distinct sound. Junclassic delivers some hard hitting lines in Soul Ass and GitGo, and Father’s Day has a strong, singular voice which builds narrative well. However, the record suffered the same problems which brought down Waves and Snow; the music was simply unmemorable. Although there were some notable instrumental moments, like the brooding Soul Ass and GitGo as well as the triumphant Footsteps in Quicksand, most of the other tracks featured forgettable beats. On the most part, the production of Better Than Fiction Too sounded like Wun Two’s previous beat tapes, expect this time the melodies were extracted and replaced by Junclassic’s vocals. Which would be totally cool if Junclassic’s performance was engaging enough to hold court. Unfortunately, he delivered his rhymes in a monotonous, droning fashion, and his wordplay and storytelling chops are less than enthralling. Catchy hooks are non-existent, and without any significant changes in tone or pitch, Junclassic falls into the background and his voice is swallowed up by the rest of the instrumentation. Bar a couple of tracks, both Wun Two and Junclassic failed to produce anything notable on their latest LP.
VERDICT: This album wasn’t a total airball or anything. It achieved what other Wun Two releases also have achieved; smooth, soft, innocuous music to listen to whilst on the move. I just wish there was a little bit more.
‘Better Than Fiction Too’ - 5 out of 10
VAULT recommends: Rio and Penthouse (both can be found on Spotify or Bandcamp). Also check out the new Paseadero EP by Wun Two and fellow German producer Hubert Daviz. Listen out for the extra crispy remix of Uknowhowwedu by Bahamadia at 9:44.
Ansel is a second-year undergrad studying Communication (Media Arts & Production and Creative Writing) and International Studies (Japan). He is an award-winning writer (NAPLAN English 2006, Distinction) and has recently completed his LMusA on air drums.
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