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CLAMS CASINO Instrumental Relics gets 8.5/10


Clams Casino
Instrumental Relics
Self-released

8.5/10

A Clams Casino official compilation of instrumental tracks? I’m in! This release is a best-of from Clams’s 2010s Instrumentals 1–4 series that he put out from 2011 to 2017, and also includes tracks from his first vinyl release, the Rainforest EP (Triangle). Best known as a pioneer of “cloud rap,” Clams (Michael Volpe) began producing tunes from his computer while living at home and studying physiotherapy at uni. He used MySpace to find rappers to email beats to, and the rest is history. He linked up with the likes of Lil’ B, A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller, Danny Brown, MF DOOM and Souljah Boy, and has remixed everyone from Vince Staples and Lee “Scratch” Perry to Sia and Lana Del Rey.

The genre on display here is essentially “instrumental ambient hip hop,” with some seriously slow beats that provide a platform for a heady swirl of melodic samples. But it’s the ambiance that is the difference with the production: there’s a palpable sense of atmosphere to all the spaces in between the more conspicuous elements. The Rainforest EP was aptly titled, as the Clams Casino sound envelops you like the high humidity in such an environment, and titles like Treetop, Caves and Leaf conjure up a bushwalk in the Wet Tropics – intriguingly convincing for a kid from New Jersey.

The collection begins with, what else? – the brilliant I’m God. It’s hard to believe, but the Imogen Heap sample that’s at the heart of this track was only legally cleared just last month. In 2011, his foil Lil’ B spat his stream of consciousness rhymes over it, but the instrumental version has just the right touch of all the elements involved; the head-nodding beats, chest-filling bass, skittering cymbals and an expressive repetitive vocal sample that flirts with the edge of cloying but finds an emotional home instead. Clams got everything right on I’m God, one of the truly classic tracks from the 2010s.

The rest of the tracks on Instrumental Relics are on the slower side, with highlights such as Motivation and Realist Alive with their buoyant melodies and vocals. There is no shortage of emotionally heavy numbers, such as Human, Numb and Leaf which feature echoing vocals on top of booming bass chords. Caves is especially dramatic, with birdsong and the chime of bells giving it a New Age veneer. Less weighty tracks such as Swervin’ show off quieter moods, with the sounds so sparse the track seems hardly there.

Instrumental Relics is a great introduction to Clams’ musical universe, but being a best-of compilation, perhaps it’s like a movie adaptation of your favourite book, leaving you thinking how you might have shot it a different way. For example, it’s missing a number of Clams’ best tracks like I’m Official, Bass, One Last Thing, Cry For Me and Melthru. And 2011’s B-Side Instrumentals & Remixes is also within the selection window but shows a whole other nu jack style to his productions (but maybe that’s another sequel altogether).

Clams Casino’s music can be enjoyed as something to be put on in the background for creativity (recommended) or studied more intensely or, even, rapped over. Instrumental Relics is an excellent opportunity to plunge into the strange and wonderful world of a truly original talent that arrived with a fully formed vision of his music less than a decade ago. Don’t miss it.

PAUL DOUGHTY

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