taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment

TWO FRESH — Air Mail

Since drumming up attention at the 2010 SXSW Festival, Asheville electronic duo Two Fresh have been praised for their ultramodern interpretations of the traditional hip-hop sound. Steeped in hip-hop vocal samples and big bass, you could trace the lineage of their debut album The Baker’s Dozen to J. Dilla as easily as you could Flying Lotus. With their follow-up Air Mail released in February on Alex B of Pnuma Trio’s Elma and Oak label, they’ve made a clear break into the realm of trance fusion while still maintaining the bassy undercurrent which drew twins Kendrick and Sherwyn Nicholls praise from the outset. The vocal hooks so prevalent on The Baker’s Dozen have been stripped entirely from Air Mail, but what surfaces here is a chaotic space occupied by swirling melodies that compete with waves of ethereal chirps and subsonic bass. Sparse piano melodies haunt the glitchy milieu of opener “Viscosities,” a track that recalls Sound Tribe Sector Nine’s Artifact, and an overall esthetic that’s pervades most of the album. Some of the sounds, however, have been heard before. The reversed synths in “Unknowns” seem to borrow from The New Deal’s “Exciting New Direction” and the mesmerizing space-funk of “Hustle” recalls Dam-Funk’s “Let’s Take Off, Far Away!” The album’s not heavy on groove, opting for a more cerebral vibe, but some motifs feel implanted to induce head nods. The sultry chirps and lush soundscapes in “Next Day Air” recall Quiet Storm-era Philadelphia Soul. The album’s darker side rears itself on “Nucking Futs” and “DewOO,” two tracks rooted in the wonk of dubstep that also manage to avoid its tendency for bland repetition. Overall, Air Mail is best consumed at once. It’s somewhat pastiche when delineated track by track, but as a complete work it’s cleverly referential to itself while also being reverent of multiple schools of electronica.