Balming Tiger's debut mixtape is a freaky clash of hip-hop ideas.
Balming Tiger vol 1 (2018)
Last month, brand new hip-hop collective Balming Tiger put out their first recording; the imaginatively titled collaborative mixtape Balming Tiger vol 1. The 8-track release is a slice of top quality psychedelic-inspired hip-hop that goes right for the jugular with it's choppy, interstellar melodies and crunchy, visceral beats.
How do you overcome having a sleeper hit? An even more pressing question is how do you overcome a sleeper hit which is a tongue-in-cheek acoustic cover of an aggressive trap mega-hit? That was the problem facing Yoo Byung-Eun after the success of his oddball reimagining of Keith Ape's It G Ma. Since then he's returned to Seoul and, along with some of the coolest names in Seoul's hip-hop scene, formed Balming Tiger who released their inaugural mixtape last week.
The album aims to represent the cacophony of the information age. Their pluralist mentality is reflected in Balming Tiger vol 1's pluralist sound; unsettled momentum and a barrage of sonic ideas. Not only does the manic production on this EP translate that message, but it is fantastic to listen to.
The nearest comparison to Balming Tiger vol 1 is Outkast's 2004 seminal double-album Speakerboxxx/Love Below. Both albums are incredibly ambitious in creating a clash between futuristic sounds and old-school hip-hop influences. Like Speakerboxxx/Love Below, Balming Tiger Vol 1 adopts a Dirty South inspired hip-hop style with a multi-genre philosophy. Song for Abyss is calamitous, glitchy free-jazz freak-out and instrumental-ish Song for Sanyawn is a grotesquely abrasive drum and bass menace. On top of this, every track resonates with a psychedelic ethos that drives the band's surrealist approach to hip-hop production.
Opening track and album stand out Chef Lee shows BT in their most chilled mood. Etheral, ambient pads and R&B beats create the sultry atmosphere. This is bolstered by the deep-toned, aloof vocal harmonies and the use of eastern guitar. The humerous lyrics walk the line between food talk and sex talk as if the band really don't understand the difference.
Despite the application of vintage hip-hop influences, this is a very contemporary sounding album. The bizarro simplicity of off-beat 못 Understand shows the band take cues from some of the most cutting-edge voices in modern-day rap music. The dark/light juxtaposition of this and Cut (featuring Kim Ximya) and the album's general all-or-nothing production make this sound like something Odd Future would produce.
What makes the output of Balming Tiger so exciting is their ability to balance their cosmic experimentalism with an inviting sense of accessibility. The result of which is an album that is as rich and vibrant on the first listen as it is on the 15th. The movements in tone and style are neither subtle nor obvious but in a sense feel strangely intuitive. Despite being an album loaded with surprising parts and weird sounds, it never feels jarring or incomprehensible but flows incredibly well.
The final lagniappe is the artwork that accompanies this. As with the release of their first single earlier this year, Balming Tiger vol 1 comes adorned with a cool looking comic strip starring the Tiger himself. The front cover of the album features the character plummeting towards a surreal world filled with pink, bunny-like shapes. An incredibly appropriate introduction to an incredibly unique album.
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