Winter & The Wolves

With the Seattle hip-hop scene being laid upon the blogosphere’s examination table thanks to the Grammy-winning domination of Macklemore, there’s going to be at least a dozen rappers turned over for inspection. Although he’s released four albums’ worth of material now, Grieves is going to be one such piece of meat on the slab. What are they going to find when they do get a hold of him? If their first stop is at Winter & The Wolves, it is 14 tracks worth of downtempo production that emphasizes live piano work and Roger Troutman-like gurgles of modular synths over which Benjamin Laub (Grieves’ birth name) opines about the woman who done him wrong and his moral failings. Sound vaguely familiar? It should because it’s the tack that most white rappers tend to take these days, following in the footsteps of forbears like Sage Francis and Atmosphere. All of the above like to do a little light boasting of their bona fides, just to keep things interesting, but otherwise open up their journal entries and a couple of veins so as to seem more real.

Let’s not roast the guy too hard. Grieves succeeded in making another often-poignant personal document of what sounds like some difficult times. He’s had a rough go of it with romance (“This ain’t love/This is two people fucking each other over”), self-isolation (“I just wanna listen to music/Sink into the background/And drunk until the room spinnin’”), and some personal demons (“I heard the devil in you that day…laughing like you would have fed your family to the serpent”). After a while, though, the “woe is me” routine starts to be taxing on the ears. This isn’t a record to slap on for kicks or to challenge the bass response of your car stereo; this is the album that makes you want to scowl under gray skies as you slog to your day job.

Laub doesn’t help matters with the toothless production decisions he and B. Lewis make on Winter. The attempt to sound like the Doors on “Serpents” is a particularly cumbersome choice, as is the plink of a Harry Nilsson-like piano part that gets repeated throughout the album. On their own, not the worst choices, but put up against stronger tracks like the razor-sharp “Shreds” and “Astronauts,” his punch-drunk duet with Atmosphere’s Slug, they cower in the shadows. There’s little doubt that we’re all going to be hearing more from Grieves in the months to follow this album’s release. The hype cycle of the music writing universe demands it. It’s just too bad that he doesn’t have much of import to say in response.