Artist: IllogicTitle: Celestial ClockworkRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Maurice Downes
As of late, there’s emerged a Columbus, Ohio sound in hip-hop. It should bring to mind lyrically complex rhyme schemes, crazy soul samples, and epic-sounding productions. Illogic has been an important emcee in this scene for some time, and has managed to give up some memorable underground releases like Unforseen Shadows and the live-only Write To Death series. An indie darling in the same vein as S.F.’s Sage Francis, Illogic belongs to the stable of emcees that front authenticity and abstract rhymes in the same breath. It’s a style that mixes the progressive nature of indie hip-hop with an eye to grounded subject matter of artists like Guru and CL Smooth.
Celestial Clockwork marks Illogic’s newest solo contribution to hip-hop, but a few albums deep, he may be exhibiting growing pains. Illogic does the damn thing on the mic, the boards are handled with care, but that too was the case with earlier Greenhouse Effect effort Life Sentences (also on Weightless), except the lines hit harder, and the backbeat was more affecting (it doesn’t help that Life Sentences was one of 2003’s best hip-hop albums). In short, Celestial Clockwork does little to convince you that it’s not just another Columbus hip-hop record.
The main problem with this album is that it sounds abstract and deep, yet little jumps out at you. As diverse as the subject matter is on this one: love, life changes, hip-hop business; it’s nothing that hasn’t been handled before… by the very same artist. It’s sort of a hit or miss affair, actually: “Time Capsule” which features Aesop Rock and Vast Aire somehow manages to never truly get going, despite being handled by three very capable emcees. The lines aren’t very memorable, considering who’s rhyming them. “Lesson In Love” feels warmed over at this point, and would be a better indictment of love gone wrong if the underground hadn’t already given us plenty… including labelmate Blueprint’s hilarious “The Jerry Springer Episode”. On the other hand, “Live To Die” is a dark and challenging track that finds Illogic in a hopeful but pessimistic mood. “First Trimester” has the album’s best combination of beats and flows, finding Illogic at his musical and storytelling best… well, it’s about unplanned pregnancy, but the way it’s handled is interesting: considering the woman’s point of view and Illogic’s later emotions. “1,000 Whispers” is typically abstract indie hip-hop stuff, but it’s too damn funky to be judged being just one of those songs you just have to take at face (ear) value to truly enjoy.
Moments like these are the exception to the rule, and tend to drown under the album’s slight lack of punch. It generally sounds non-descript, except for a few standouts, and we expect a bit more from an artist like Illogic at this point. You’ll listen to Celestial Clockwork, hear some tight musical work, some complex rhyme schemes, and in the end say… another indie Columbus joint. Which is a shame, since Illogic is definitely not just another emcee.