David Ramos This Up Here

[Fake Four; 2008]

Styles: indie pop, rap
Others: Serengeti, The Unicorns, DJ Shadow

In the past few years, David Ramos has quietly shown his versatility. He's been named (right after Thomas Pridgen) one of Modern Drummer's top 10 progressive drummers, made beats for bigwigs like Busdriver, and played with his brother for almost 15 years in the prolific Anonymous Inc. A rare solo endeavor, This Up Here, Fake Four's first release, is a fine showcase for the artist's talents as producer and composer -- although not without filler.

Immediately, Ramos' use of a lo-fi drum machine stands in playful contrast to his obvious drum chops. The fact that Ramos doesn't take himself too seriously here is a good indication of the album's overall tenor. Vocals are mostly subdued behind tropical guitars and messy synths, showing obvious hip-hop inclinations. Ramos is careful not to overdress any of his succinct compositions; only a handful of tracks clock in over three minutes.

For the most part, this works well. Ramos has cultivated a sound that is undoubtedly from his own mind, with a patchwork of square waves and Casiotones. His songwriting can be inconsistent, though, resulting in accidental forays into hackneyed hooks that unfortunately overshadow the production, the real quality in his work. But this is not to say that the album has no pop value; tracks like "Pulse" and "Kings And Queens" make use of breaks that exhibit uniting threads between pop and hip-hop.

Ramos offsets the tracks' otherwise lighthearted nature by singing about cancer and a few other unpleasant subjects, although his lyrics are mostly obscured under his instrumental work. This Up Here could well have stood alone as an album with no vocals, although Ramos' bits of melodic rapping blend well over the tracks, with well-spaced hip-hop verses reminiscent of Serengeti and Polyphonic. It's not a perfect album, but This Up Here is a strong solo debut.

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