All good things must come to an end, and proving that adage is the career of Zachary Mastoon. The New York-via-Chicago producer had a blazing career under the name Caural, releasing four albums and two EPs in a five-year span for such notable labels as Chocolate Industries and Mush Records. Unfortunately, a confluence of events led to Mastoon’s disillusionment, starting with the decline of underground hip-hop and his dislike of being pigeonholed by journalists (you’re welcome), and culminating with his prize Yamaha SU700 being stolen from his studio apartment.
As such, Die Before You Die likely contains the last recordings Mastoon will make as Caural. Yet, this EP is not a Frisbee-colored 10-inch of throwaways found on floppy disks wedged under the floorboards where his keyboard used to be. While the final track, “Sorry, Underground Hip Hop Happened Ten Years Ago (for Regan),” grows tiresome on repeat listens (it’s a cheeky collage ode that streamlines famous rappers saying “yo” for two of the EP’s fourteen minutes), the first four cuts are all superlative atmospheric, bass-heavy pieces of psychedelia that place Caural in the realm of avant-garde sampledelics like Daedelus, Prefuse 73, The Gaslamp Killer, and Dabrye. He clearly has an amazing knack for drum arrangements, sample layering, tasteful processing, and constructing moody and moving found melodies.
It’s fitting that the boom-bap beat, cricket noise, record static, and elevating vocal line take “Sunburned” to a place of lush nostalgia from which few would wish to return: these five tracks remind us that Mastoon was an inventive, quirky, oftentimes brilliant producer, one who had the ability to produce truly great electronic/hip-hop compositions. If this is actually it for Caural, it’s a serious loss. Die Before You Die isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a nice way to complete his career.