Field recordings, in my opinion, are criminally underrated. They add a layer of reality to songs that can otherwise feel to “machined” – hindered by quantization – or too close to their digital origin. Looking in the opposite direction, a track completely void of natural sound can feel too otherworldly, too saturated in its own desire to escape orbit to uncharted sonic territory. Both ends of this spectrum have been explored heavily in the electronic music of the 2010’s, with a resurgence in analogue equipment grounding techno ambitions in physical space, and star fuckers like Oneohtrix Point Never challenging listeners nebulas away. Lo-fi hip hop, the kind on hyro’s
coma.dreams, keeps us firmly grounded somewhere in the middle – a little familiar, a little arcane, but layered heavily with the comfortable hiss of home recordings.
There’s homage to J Dilla’s classic hissy wonkiness in hyro’s work. It’s unnecessary to ruminate on that though – lo-fi owes eternal homage to Dilla by default. As did his mythical treasure trove of beat tapes, and the image we have of the artist working feverishly, day-in-day-out, feeding the largesse of their musical output. coma.dreams is presented in the popular “beat tape” format, where tracks rarely ever extend beyond two minutes, and generally focus on one passage or phrase before fading out into bubbling hiss. hyro uses few vocal samples, so there isn’t much of a human presence to give the listener context (or something to chuckle about) – only the lonely, haunting echo of endless conurbation, dilapidated council estates, and dirty concrete. Unlike most beat tapes, this one has also been pressed on a real cassette, and is available for sale. I’m sure listening to coma.dreams on the appropriate format adds considerably to the woozy ambience. Brevity can be a strength or a weakness, but hyro avoids the cliches of lo-fi. Instead of ersatz jazz loops, a pulsing synth melody does the trick. When samples are used, they slither quietly in the background.
I’ve always assumed beattapes were short because, were an MC wanted to hop on, the 4 to 8 bar phrase could easily be repeated into a full verse. The beats are seeds of inspiration for rappers, in this sense. Others simply chalk it up to beat smiths emulating J Dilla and the “bumps” on American cartoon channel Adult Swim, which often feature mind-blowing 30-second expositions (many made by Flying Lotus) that blitz the screen before listeners can even register what they heard, leaving them hungry for more. In his own words, hyro calls his tracks “like short dream episodes, hence why they were all so different.” It’s true the album hops between styles, summoning various rhythmic zombies from ancient-sounding equipment, but it does so without straying too far from the mausoleum.
By Ross Devlin | Loose Lips