Despite it’s broad range of influences and wide spectrum of sounds, Hip Hop, particularly of the UK variety, tends to exist as it’s own pocketed subculture. It’s a shame to say, but the mainstream demonization of the genre has led it to a point where even it’s mere mention is enough to encourage scoffing and nose raising among critics at publications considered more ‘high brow’. Admittedly, it’s a genre often held back by it’s fierce spirit of staying true to self and much of what it has to offer is probably most suited to it’s dedicated followers, who have the ability to understand, relate and decipher that many simply don’t possess. Chemo’s latest album however, a thirteen track journey under his solo alias Telemachus, is definitely an exception to that rule. Despite his roots as one of the UK’s most esteemed producers, and someone who’s also played a large part in the back end of developing our scene through his Kilamanjaro studios, In The Evening reaches out to those from all walks of life with a diverse range of sounds and a level of sophistication often under represented by Hip Hop beat makers.
The difference between Hip Hop Instrumentals and Instrumental Hip Hop is, semantically, a massive one, despite the former often being passed off as the latter. Rather than simply creating beats without MCs, the tracks on In The Evening become more intricately crafted songs as they progress through melody after melody, instrument after instrument, drawing you deeper into their soundscape with each new development. Inspired by the Greek tale of a young boy’s (Telemachus) journey to find his father during the Trojan War, Telemachus has created a sonic journey that seemingly never repeats itself, even within tracks. For example, despite the constant bass guitar that introduces it, the rising synths and shuffling drum break of Tennis Season works it’s way through a wealth of atmospherics as it seems to open up further and further throughout, reaching a particular high when the snatches of guitar previously featured unexpectedly hang around to reveal the full melody over half way through the track.
The journey of the album as a whole is also essential to it’s enrapturing nature, taking you through the ups and downs of a true epic. After the busy break and heavy focus on Mr Thing’s chopped vocal samples of Planet Earth, lent a slight party feal by the ‘Yeah’ vocal snatches, and the aforementioned Tennis Season give a sense of introducing proceedings and bringing in the concept of Telemachus’s journey, the album really begins to settle into it’s stride as it relaxes into In The Evening. A much more sparse, relaxed break, it would perhaps be easy to underestimate the complexity of this track, due to it’s effortless illusion of simplicity. The two keys that define it seem the only real constant of it’s melody as saxophones, strings, twinkles and wood atmospherics weave in and out. Even it’s vocal hook, a soft male voice that’s introduced perfectly after a pause that would be agonizing if not for the trance the tracks already pulled you into, is accompanied by two further additions later on, a spoken word sample and a smooth female vocal. Despite it having much more to give, the guitars introduced half way through had already cemented this as a personal stand out.
Despite the serene nature of In The Evening, the relaxed moments on the journey prove bittersweet and there always seems to be a sense of ‘the calm before the storm’ about them, a feeling confirmed as an ominous bassline accompanies a skit to flow straight into the first of five ingeniously selected vocal features; The Light featuring Jah Mirikle. Big drums seemingly blend into one with the dubby bassline underneath them as Mirikle’s ragga infused rhymes on the trials of life form the sounds of a call to arms, an anthem of the oppressed that reeks of urgency and danger. The vocal features truly are as diverse as the music itself and no two wordsmiths are remotely the same. Jehst, the next in line, represents UK Hip Hop as he takes on the echoing drum rolls, oriental strings and heavy, clapping snare of The Sheltering Sky. Launching straight into a hook, he summons up imagery of a lone b-boy cutting a shape in an ominous sky, paying homage to legendary English film maker Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, The Birds, Sabotage) and later the songwriter/poet/The Doors front man Jim Morrison. Jehst demonstrates his unique ability to really get into a concept, taking you through his signature high plains to Kaftan as he mixes psychedelic imagery with that of the desert to summon up mirages and encourage your mind to run wild.
Instantly after, the soulful and yet heart achingly melancholic tones of El Crisis add another piece to the vocal puzzle. Paired with a minimal break carried only by it’s echo, smooth, thought provoking guitars add to a warm bass guitar and background blending atmospherics for a sound that conjures up imagery of a smoky clubhouse. The kind of track best served with a scotch under dim lighting, El Crisis’ smooth flows perfectly suit the beat and his reminiscent “lament of a self made man” seems to give the instruments voice rather than simply stamping his mark on them. Adding another style to proceedings, it’s instantly obvious in the western guitars, pipes and windy atmospherics of Scarecrows that this is Roc Marciano’s kind of beat. Fluttering hats intro a desert scuttling beat that sets the tone for Roc’s swaggering, and yet somehow classy, rhymes. Mastered slightly low so as to let the instrumental do a lot of the tone setting, his vocals once again perfectly suit the tone of the beat for a track that’s understated and yet incredibly vibey.
The final piece of a feature list that, despite being short, seems to cover almost all the major styles of vocalists is completed by female singer Jareth on the penultimate track Grey Skies. Despite a soft, relaxed piano intro, her powerful voice is matched by the head nodding beat, defined by it’s shakers and some truly incredible electric guitars. Elegant yet forceful, she excels throughout but the chorus really does the track justice, particularly on it’s final repitition where, after a short interlude the beat bangs back in, this time accompanied by the addition of a big bassline into the mix as the track crescendo’s before tailing off. The theme of rain drops is one also notable in El Crisis‘ vocals and, when juxtaposed by the sweltering heat of Jehst’s The Sheltering Sky, shows the variety of a journey that has all the ordeals of a true Greek odyssey.
Telemachus really shows his breadth and class as a beat maker that can conjure up a wide range of emotions and images. The opening vocal sample of Technician (“Is this an art form, or are you just a technician?”) sums up the kind of opinions often thrown at sample based producers, but he effortlessly sweeps the criticism aside not only with the intricately layered flutes and picks of that track but also the craft and structure of the album as a whole. The low key ambient skit Father for example comes in almost unnoticed and yet is incredibly atmospheric, providing the perfect break between two vocalist features as it slowly rises through vocal samples before slapping you back to the real world then suddenly dropping out, leaving behind nothing but a Telemachus sample and dark noise. It’s a nice touch in an album that is made by the little things and a meticulous level of attention to detail.
Rather than fall into the trap of jazz samples and an abundance of saxophones often favoured by the more elegant side of hip hop, the range of instrumentation is far reaching. In fact, it often strays the opposite way in favour of strings and guitars, such as on the closing Ferndale Road. A journey not without it’s struggles, you get the sense in the final track that it’s been one of success as the whooping ambience of what’s presumably a school playground joins an incredibly relaxing melody. Dropping through a rising synth into a smooth, natural sounding drum break, it’s another of my personal favourite offerings and really ends things in style. Violins fade into the mix as the guitar riff begins to morph into electric keys and a vocal sample comes in, adding an extra level of interest and dialogue; a technique utilised throughout the album without ever losing it’s effectiveness through overprescription.
Despite leaving you wanting more, it also signs off with a mellow beauty and a sense of peace and accomplishment that seems incredibly fitting for the end of a long journey. It’s a release that truly deserves the ears of as many people as possible, so it would be frustrating to see it confined to circles of Hip Hop aficionados as it really does extend far beyond our genre. It’s variety is paramount and yet it all ties together so well as one for an album that makes full use of the album format, taking you up and down through hills and valleys, storms and lulls, without ever once losing your attention.
In the Evening is available direct through YNR or Suspect Packages in physical or digital format and is definitely not an album to be slept on. See what the man himself had to say about it in our interview below…
Hi Telemachus, thanks for taking the time out firstly! How do we find you today?
I am very well thank you, I was hoping to be outside and tending to my tomato plants, but alas a freak hailstorm has meant that I am indoors for the evening sun set.
Set the scene for us, what’s the most interesting object you can see from your perch?
I have a wooden giraffe named ‘Aboubakar’ that I found in Sudan. He can be pretty funny.
What’s the most recent tune to make it’s way through your ear canals?
I was working on a song with Onoe Caponoe this afternoon in the studio. I remember it being quite vigorous.
What’s a guilty pleasure tune you just can’t help loving?
Anything by Queen. I know pretty much every album off by heart… Is that embarrassing or cool? I am not sure.
What’s the strangest record you’ve ever sampled?
I have a record called ‘Learn Norwegian in 45 minutes‘. I think I may have used a sample saying ‘I would like to know the way to the cathedral’ on a song. My Norwegian is still shit.
You’ve just released an album under your Telemachus alias. I’m aware Chemo is for collabs and Telemachus is for solo projects, but how do the two tend to differ in terms of sound, influences and character?
There is obviously some overlap in styles, but Telemachus is perhaps a little more artful.
You’ve been in this game a while now. How do you feel your working process has differed over the years and what equipment/discovery/technique was a key moment in your development?
Ten years ago I could make 20 ‘tracks’ in a week, whereas now I write far fewer, but I spend enough time and thought on each song ensuring that the quality is consistently high. Since I began tapping out percussion rhythms live and then recreating the groove in the computer I feel my compositions have become a little more interesting.
You’ve made plenty of Hip Hop in your time, but listening to In the Evening it’s obvious that it’s influences and style stretch far wider. How would you describe it and what were your intentions going into it’s creation?
I’m glad that has come across. I have a fairly wide appreciation for music across genres, which I feel comes as a result of crate digging and sampling. I will always love Hip Hop music but the last few years I have tried to be a little more ambitious and to experiment a little more. My next album ‘Telemachus in Morocco‘ is a good example of these new ways of working.
What kind of mindstate would you ideally like people to be in both before and after listening to it?
Ideally I would like people to be crying when they first put the album on, and then progress through feelings of comfort, through to arrogance, and then on to enlightenment and overwhelming spiritual fulfillment. Should be pretty easy.
I’m really liking the cover art, it seems to suit the variety and sophistication of the music. How did it come about and what’s the thinking behind it?
That’s very kind of you. The painting of the flower is by my best buddy Chris Page, who is a really fantastic artist. I often find album art almost as interesting as the music itself and have previously purchased numerous records based simply on them having a surreal painting on the cover. On the CD version of my album, there is a pretty flower poster, and a little story I have written.
The collaboration with Jehst ‘The Sheltering Sky‘ seems an obvious one based on it’s YNR release and your previous tracks together. The other featured vocalists though (Jah Mirikle, El Crisis, Roc Marciano and Jareth) will be less expected. How did you come to link up with them and what do you think makes them a good fit for the album?
The guest vocalists were chosen and approached very deliberately for this project as I wanted to take the listener on a journey through a number of different styles and dynamics.
As a whole, it’s balanced more towards the instrumental side of things, with the occasional vocal spikes. Was that a conscious decision or just how the album came together naturally?
Yes, I am a huge fan of DJ Krush for example, who had a few albums in the late 90’s which followed the formula of having a mainly instrumental album, and using the vocal tracks to provide impact.
Is there much recorded instrumentation or is it mainly sample based?
There are a few great musicians who helped me along the way. Special shouts to Shama Rahman (sitar), G. Rutherford (guitar) and Biscuit (flute) who came down and breathed life into some of the melodic parts. I also played a fair amount of it myself in my own inimitable ‘slightly-out-of-tune-trial-and-error’ approach to instrumentation.
Obviously asking you to name a favourite track is a tall order, but which was the most problematic or was a real labour of love?
A lot of time has passed since I finished these songs and time has clouded what little pools of memory I still have, but I do remember the double bass on ‘Rose Petals‘ being really hard to mix, I think its probably still a bit high actually…. RECALL THE ALBUMS IMMEDIATELY!!
If you could make anyone in the world, alive or dead, sit down and listen to it start to finish, who would it be?
I have a really irrational fear of listening to my music in the company of others, but providing I didnt have to be there, then I would quite like to travel back in time and play the album to the real Telemachus from ‘The Odyssey‘.
Between making your own music you record others at Kilamanjaro Studios. Tell me a bit about that, how did it come to be and why do you think it’s become such a hub of UK Hip Hop?
Over the years I have become pretty good at sound engineering and luckily I have been able to build up a reputation for the quality of my recording/mixing/mastering services. Some of the equipment I own is quite frankly a joke but people seem to appreciate my focused, professional attitude and my creative approach to recording.
What else is coming up for both Telemachus and Chemo?
Pretty excited about ‘Telemachus in Morocco‘ and also projects with Jam Baxter and Onoe Caponoe.
On the subject of the future… What’s this I hear on the grapevine of something to do with you and robot wars?
I was in talks with the producers of Robot Wars a few years ago as they wanted someone to front the show who had a combination of street credibility, very long legs AND devilish good looks. When they met me though, they quickly discovered that I was, in reality, a pretty annoying loser, and they decided in their infinite wisdom to scrap the whole project.
Cheers! Any final pearls you’d like to end on?
‘A man who has a hat, will not need a house, but a man who has a pet leopard… will probably need a house’. You can make a t shirt out of that or some shit.