Gramatik's Epigram Review

During his live performances, Gramatik teams up with a guitarist to give his shows a uniquely human feel compared to other electronic/hip-hop acts. (credit: Courtesy of messycupcakes via Flickr) During his live performances, Gramatik teams up with a guitarist to give his shows a uniquely human feel compared to other electronic/hip-hop acts. (credit: Courtesy of messycupcakes via Flickr)

Last week Brooklyn-based producer Gramatik released Epigram, his long awaited follow up to 2014’s The Age of Reason that continues to push his ever-evolving sound. The album covers a wide range of styles over its ten tracks, from driving techno to orchestras sampled from Game of Thrones, but remains grounded in Gramatik’s hip-hop roots, so it sounds focused in its experimentation. Featuring appearances that range from the Wu-Tang rapper Raekwon to the throwback soul-singer Leo Napier, Epigram is a testament to Gramatik’s constant efforts to freshen his sound and remain a creative outsider in the electronic music scene.

Epigram builds off of Gramatik’s change in direction following his last two releases, 2012’s #digitalfreedom and 2014’s The Age of Reason. Merging his heavy use of horn and soul samples over hip-hop beats with thicker synths and an aggressive edge, the two releases were a major departure from the softer sounds of his previous albums and heralded a new Gramatik capable of all-out bass assaults. Epigram sees Gramatik play with the deep bass and pistol-cocking samples of trap on “War of the Currents”and create the kind of driving techno dance rhythms that could keep a warehouse going until 8 a.m. on tracks like “Corporate Demons” or his remix of Laibach’s “Ear Liver!”

These tracks are interesting at first glance, but are ultimately repetitive and lack the soul that causes a song to stick with the listener.

While the album’s experimental edge indicates that Gramatik isn’t relying on tried-and-true frameworks, his master skills are in hip-hop production. Epigram’s soaring moments are when the soul is given center-stage. “Satoshi Nakamoto” comes roaring after the “Tempus Illusio” intro and features verses from rappers Adrian Lau and ProbCause. References to cryptocurrency and magic mushrooms are fired over a bumping bass beat accented by screaming horn samples, ending with the kind of blistering blues guitar work that’s become a staple of Gramatik’s recent work. “Native Son”, which features verses from Raekwon and vocals from Orlando Napier, tells a story of struggle and survival in the urban ghetto tinged with regret and loss. It’s a downtempo number with jazzy guitar licks and soulful singing from Napier and serves as the album’s centerpiece. “Native Son” is immediately followed by the swinging soul number“Native Son (Prequel),” with Napier bringing a bat-out-of-hell energy and proclaiming that he’ll “go straight to hell laughing” over jazz guitar and a rocking beat. “Prequel” stands as my personal favorite on the album, and its catchy hook will be stuck in your head for days guaranteed.

The Slovenian-born Gramatik is as interesting a personality as you can find in the electronic music scene. He’s a fanatic of all things Nikola Tesla (“War of the Currents” and “Room 3327” are both song titles that are direct references to the inventor) and a vocal supporter of the free exchange of information and ideas. He doesn’t charge a cent for his music and releases all of it for free through partnerships with BitTorrent on his website. His forward-thinking ideals are refreshing for today’s very business-like music business, especially with regards to electronic music. Hopefully future producers develop the same kind of openness that Gramatik and his contemporaries have and we won’t all have to buy a subscription service to listen to music.

Epigram is available for free download on gramatik.net and on streaming platforms such as Spotify and SoundCloud.