Variable Unit – Mayhemistics Outbreaks

Variable Unit
Mayhemistics Outbreaks

Hip-hop and jazz have always been associated in the consciousness of musical historians, but rarely have they been unified in practice. It would seem logical; aside from the obvious racial relationship between the two – both were pioneered by cutting-edge black artists – the two genres share an experimental instinct, bending the rules and redefining the boundaries of what had previously been accepted as music. Both encapsulate and harness a playful spirit, a creative force that blows minds and expand horizons.

So a band like Variable Unit has a lot to live up to. Can these musicians reconcile these creative forces? Are they capable chemists – that is, can they brew the right blend of the two without blowing up the lab? After all, although a jazz/hip-hop hybrid has tremendous potential, it’s an easy thing to screw up.

Unfortunately, Mayhemistics Outbreaks fails to capitalize on the exceptional potential of the combination. Album opener “Something is Happening” teases at this potential, coming exceptionally close to entwining jazz and hip-hop (or, perhaps more aptly, spoken-word poetry) in a compelling way and hinting at an album of explosive quality. A nimble drumbeat bumps and clicks under slithering synths, as MC Azeem whispers inspired words over the mix. “Now I know you probably wonder / about the whispers in the halls / and the lives of secrets symbols / and the mysteries involved / … / dangerous and hidden / oh yes, there is something going on.” His lyrics certainly are enticing; they hint at and suggest profound truths, powerful symbols, and gripping images – all of which would be delightfully effective if only the rest of the album delivered on their promise.

But “Camouflage Prison” squanders the intensity of “Something is Happening,” trading tense melodies for a bouncy drumbeat and cheeseball synth lines. “Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom and Justice” fares better, fueled by another tactful rhythm supplied by Thomas McGree on drums and Matt Montgomery. “Love, Truth, Freedom and Justice” is followed by an aimless instrumental track that blends jazz and industrial music unconvincingly.

Unfortunately, things get worse from here. “Black Gold” doesn’t even try; a ruinous synthesized bass line and an incessant repetition of the words “black gold” are introduced into the beat, with catastrophic results. “Second Seal” is even more aimless than the prior instrumental track. “Spring Break” is even worse.

The only interesting moments on Mayhemistics Outbreaks are when Azeem contributes vocals. On “Contradiction,” Azeem raps, “Every time you fuck with nature / something goes wrong / and every time you push the gauges / we put it into songs.” On “Liberation 2,” he says, “I’ll take a comet from heaven / and just throw it in a lyric!”

Regrettably, he only appears rarely. The album closes with a long and mildly interesting instrumental track that would probably be better if it didn’t repeat the same percussive tricks that characterize all the album’s best songs. If nothing else, Variable Unit can be credited with undertaking an ambitious project. If one is to fail, why not fail in the face of incredible odds? But in the end, the difficulty of Variable Unit’s goal matters little. What we’re left with is a shattered husk of a strong will and a driving ambition, and when it comes down to it, that’s really not that interesting.