Clams Casino’s productions seem to fill an almost spiritual need in the internet era of rap music. Commenters on YouTube who know nothing about Clams Casino grow inexplicably reverent in the presence of these beats. The usual “your gay” comments are rapidly shushed. Some listeners go so far as to loop intros to songs using Clams Casino beats in an effort to create endless, instrumental hymns. Considered on its own, Clams Casino’s production for Lil B’s “Motivation” is remarkable: a hiccuping, luminous swoon that casts the Based God’s delivery into hazy silhouette. When listened to in the context of the entire album, the song serves as a moment of contemplation, and in this context, Clams Casino’s mood music is a necessary pause in the narrative. The productions on Clams Casino’s Rainforest, however, have a different meaning. No longer part of the arc of a rap album, the instrumentals must tell a story by themselves. Clams Casino succeeds in constructing effortlessly evocative textures and moments full of dramatic potential, but as songs in their own right, the tracks on the New Jersey producer’s first officially released EP need more happening to drive the story forward.
Rainforest easily fits the mold of sample-based IDM, and it serves adequately in that context. But what is most interesting in Clams Casino’s music is that the trace of contemporary hip-hop gives us the opportunity to consider this type of music as a product of hip-hop’s ideas and sounds, not simply another melancholic bedroom opus. The producer recently contributed a mix to FACT Magazine that showcases the aesthetic sensibility through which Rainforest should be understood: the manic pop world of hip-hop radio, with all the hedonism of club-oriented music and mercurial mood swings of pop music. This EP doesn’t take the listener on that kind of ride. It tends to, er, drag, but the producer’s deft touch with wonky textures remains thrilling.
Clams Casino’s productions gain much more authority and interest from their context on rap albums. On this album, the drum machines of hip-hop production are dessicated husks, clattering like the jaws of empty skulls. Screwed vocal samples groan and sigh. But where are the other colors from his mixtapes: the Björk-sampling stomp, the shining chrome synths, the dumbass sugar rush of hearing the hook to “Cold War” repeated two dozen times in one track? The first three songs on the EP are aggressively laconic. “Waterfalls” smothers the sounds of FM radio, fanfares and drum hits echoing up from six feet under. The last two songs, however, are essential: “Drowning” calls to mind James Blake on cough syrup. A lonely, restless piano chord tiptoes around a ghostly vocal sample as it’s chopped into an agitated mutter. “Gorilla” uses a rock drum set to summon a dream-pop epic out of the siren synths and relentless bass kick programming of a mid-2000s crunk and B song.
Clams Casino’s beats are used by rappers to create the reflective “happy place” on albums that also include sections of relatively higher drama. Rainforest, however, is all place and no progression. Vague titles invoking storybook images of the jungle aside, there is no story here. Within the world of hip-hop production, Clams Casino’s productions remain fascinating, occult counterpoints to the bravado of rap. The last two songs on this set catalog some of the essential sounds of electronic music in 2010-2011. I expect to hear these beats beneath a Lil Wayne song within the year. But in the context of this EP, they are a little too static. Download Clams Casino’s superb mixtape, subscribe to his YouTube channel, and get back to listening to Lil B.