Amp Live • Headphone Concerto • Plug Research • US Release Date: August 5, 2014
The best way to describe Headphone Concerto: ambitious. On Headphone Concerto, hip-hop producer Amp Live truly flexes his creativity and musicianship to the upmost. Mixing cues from numerous genres including classical and jazz, Headphone Concerto is genuinely something special to behold. Forget about ‘ear candy’ being defined by sex, Headphone Concerto is authentic, must-hear ‘ear candy.’ Ladies and gentlemen, here is the exemplification of ‘trill.’
The ‘concerto’ opens with “No. 1 In D Minor Op. 1:Amore,” an introductory interlude. Featuring a nice palette of sounds – piano, music box, strings, spoken word and etc. – “…Amore” establishes the tone of the album and particular movement of the concerto. During this division of the album itself, the sound is more classically driven.
“Last Wall” (featuring The Grouch & Eligh) takes the momentum of the opening interlude and runs with it. Lyrics “L-O-V-E / that’s the key to it all / big, small, one answer / we will yell this anthem / bring what it draws and kills all cancers,” is reiterated throughout the course of the song. Pacing is definitely a strong suit of this song; drums don’t enter until nearly a minute and a half has elapsed. A timely switch-up to more electro-centric production, from a symphonic brass dominated sound, definitely keeps things fresh. Strings conclude the superb track.
“Flight in G Minor,” featuring Dirty Cello, doesn’t miss a beat, filled with more high-flying production including strings, and mean-sounding brass hits. An electronic component gives this cut its hip-hop touch, while piano eventually takes this cut to a different place. Once more, Headphone Concerto has an elite moment to stand behind.
“Signs” featuring Eric Rachmany, gives Headphone Concerto its first more traditional cut, aka featuring vocals. Rachmany shines vocally, while lovely string work continues to please the ears. “Run Back,” featuring Saint Tiimbre isn’t too shabby itself, with Saint Tiimbre’s (Natasha Adorlee) upper register pipes cutting through brilliantly. The song ends with a spoken word interlude, centered around “1993.” This phone conversation sets up the next song, easily among the album’s most triumphant.
The best way to describe “Ihearthiphop” is as epic. A song divided into different sections for its respective guest artists, “Ihearthiphop” is simply amazing and masterfully conceived. Besides the excellent work by the featured artists (Planet Asia, Opio, Mike G, Gift of Gab, etc.), the legitimacy of the classical and jazz cues within the instruments is exceptional…fantastic…magnificent! Get it Amp Live! What better way to conclude the first movement?
“No. 1 In D Minor Op. 2: Potencia” breaks things up, filled with electronic cues as well as monks singing changt – go figure! It precedes another home run, “Remembrance,” which embraces both electronic and classical music. It’s hard not to be in awe of the bright, soaring strings. Even more interesting is the fusion of styles and how well contrasting ideas work together.
“Are We Dancing,” featuring Ill Esha, benefits from its vocal harmonies and of course that constant palette of sounds. More traditional than some songs, “Are We Dancing” gives the listener sort of a ‘home base’ to rely on if other songs felt a bit of a stretch from the familiar. That said, “Are We Dancing” isn’t the definitive song from Headphone Concerto by any means. “100,000 Watts” proceeds, keeping things slickly produced and interesting to the ears.
“No. 2 In B Minor, Op. 3: Muziki” definitely exibits a change of pace, incorporating jazz into the mix. The melodic piano lines stand out, as does the groove. “Muziki” is longer than the other two ‘preludes,’ but that’s not a bad thing. “Penny Nickel Dime,” featuring Anya & Prof and “The Formula” featuring Sol both receive high marks. Anya’s distinct vocal tone makes “Penny Nickel Dime” soar, while Sol’s rhymes slay on the overt hip-hop of “The Formula.” “Fell in love with the game at the age of 13,” spits Sol on verse two, “Wet dreams of taking over this scene.”
“Hustle 360,” featuring Povi Tamu, doesn’t quite reach the grandeur of “Penny Nickel Dime” or “The Formula,” but it definitely concludes the album solidly and enjoyably. Tamu vocally sounds terrific.
All in all, Headphone Concerto easily ranks among one of the most creative efforts of 2014. More musicians could stand to as ambitious taking risks like Amp Live does on this marvelous LP. With hip-hop dominated by trends that lack creativity or any sense of innovative spirit in mind, Amp Live allows creativity to fuel Headphone Concerto and the rewards are substantial.
Favorites: “Last Wall,” “Flight in G Minor,” “Ihearthiphop,” “Remembrance,” “Penny Nickel Dime,” “The Formula”