Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Joe McShan, also known as Jae Havoc. His new EP is ‘Dark Days x Bright Nights,’ an eclectic, immensely satisfying hip hop endeavor rooted in jazz, soul, and what Havoc describes as a ‘punk ethos.’ Over the last year, we’ve touched on hundreds of indie hip hop artists. It’s the most congested independent space, but also some of the most rewarding. Thus, it seems somewhat fitting that one of our final reviews of the year is Havoc, an artist who does exemplify much of what makes indie hip hop genuinely wonderful.
Right off the bat, ‘Dark Days x bright Nights’ is tinged with jazz and soul influence in the most elegant way possible. ‘In The Way of Things’ is an excursion through soul-infused hip hop that’s remarkably well written. Havoc’s delivery is sharp, witty, and chock-full of personality. His choice of backing cast is equally notable, especially the woman accenting him. The track was produced by Havoc, too, which adds to its impressiveness. I particularly like his jazzy saxophone that melds into a bright, starry-eyed synthesizer with incredible tact.
‘No Trouble,’ a track with the guest producer OMT, is a noticeable sonic contrast to ‘In The Way of Things.’ OMT’s presence is much more retro, embracing some production techniques and beats that are reminiscent of early 90s hip hop. At times, that translates into a harder, more intense performance backed by equally harsh instrumentation. It works well for Havoc; “live, consume, die, repeat,” he declares in an epic finale.
‘BadWolf’ is the only other track with a guest producer, this time, Brakebill. This production isn’t quite as complementary to Havoc as OMT’s. The instrumentation feels void of any real presence; the synthesizers are too sublime, too empty. The very end of the track is fantastically good, though, and I adore the atmospheric cacophony of reverb that resonates around Havoc in a most intriguing way. Hell, that last thirty seconds amends any lackluster production prior to it.
‘Do It!!!’ returns to Havoc’s production, and it also concretes my opinion that he is the best producer for himself. I love his commentary on the industry and contemporary rap stars on this track. It may be Havoc’s most impressive lyrical outing, exhibiting a level of prowess that truly defines him as a talented, versed independent artist.
‘The Continued Dumbing Down of Love’ closes out the album in the most perfect way possible, accentuating Havoc with a beautifully haunting production and equally poignant lyrics. His profound contemplations about love, the idea of ‘forever,’ and the idea of belonging, are quite interesting. It’s a fitting finale to a great record.
I’m so happy we can close out the Independent Spotlight coverage of hip hop in 2015 with such a graceful, excellent album. ‘Dark Days x Bright Nights’ is so worth your time; it’s superb. With an independent hip hop scene so endlessly inundated by crap, this is a diamond in the rough.