Collard – Clean Break (Review)

collard
Self-released (2016)

Josh Collard: A former member and co-founder of the London-based art collective Last Night In Paris who, this September, decided it was time to showcase his talent individually; he dropped his debut EP. He’s been around for a minute now, though. Spitting standout verses on LNIP posse cuts like “Own Me,” Collard has already demonstrated his skill and versatility, constantly finessing his unique formula of scorching sixteens and heavenly hooks. With the arrival of this EP, however, it seems as though Collard has truly found his lane: Zach Nahome’s razor-sharp, psychedelic soundscapes provide the perfect backdrop for Collard’s smouldering vocals, generating a sparkling sequence of tracks.

So, we begin with “Walls Of Jericho.” Nahome initiates the track with some silky keys, closely followed by some pitched-up vocal moans, a production trend we’ve come to associate with the LNIP clan. It is clear why: The pitched-up vocals are juxtaposed perfectly with Collard’s low, raspy flow, creating a two-pronged vocal attack from the top and bottom end. Collard directs his bars at a particular female, spitting with an air of nonchalance as he describes a relationship fraught with frustration and lust. At the root of this frustration seems to be the disparity between their two lifestyles: “Way too different / The boy live different” he raps, seemingly unperturbed by the irreconcilability of their ways. As the drums drop out, however, we hear something perhaps contrary to this. As the hook begins, Collard’s voice soars to the rafters and utters, “I pray my walls don’t fall down on me.” Perhaps the “walls” he’s referring to here, are the cold barbs he throws at his girl, keeping her at a distance to avoid catching feelings. The stark contrast between the hook and the verses are compelling, not only sonically, but also in terms of content: There is an internal struggle between R&B artist and hip-hop artist; a struggle between one who fucks for love, and one who loves to fuck, shall we say.

Collard’s soothing vocals and Nahome’s gorgeous guitar bring the track to a close, and seamlessly kick-start the next: “Arrival.” However, the tempo of this one is much different. Our ears are immediately swamped in slow, drugged-out riffs and pitch-bent bass, indicating that Collard’s been sipping on something. This thought is further solidified when he starts rhyming, his voice sluggish and heavily pitched-down. “I’m not the one that you should be with / I’m a nigger that you cheat with” he growls, continuing his verses in a similar vein to the first track. This time, however, we have learnt not to trust Collard’s cold exterior so easily. His brash, intoxicated utterances, then, are perhaps an indication of the toll this relationship has taken on him emotionally.

As Collard’s drunken monologue draws to a close, soft howls begin to soar over the top leaving just enough room for Nahome’s psychedelic riffs to ring out through the trundling soundscape. These elements begin to warp and eventually come to a halt, signalling the start of the third song and, in my opinion, the most seminal: “Burning Truth.” Here, the EP begins to move in a different direction. Perhaps Collard’s liquored-up lashings on the previous track sparked a more serious row, as his sincerity is palpable. Poignant, muffled piano sets the tone for the track, closely followed by Collard as he immediately opens up: “Never compromise your virtues / Girl I swear they don’t deserve you,” he croons. As the intro unfurls, Collard’s elegant hook is complimented by more stunning riffs from Nahome, further demonstrating the duo’s undeniable chemistry. When punchier drums arrive, so do Collard’s husky bars. This time, however, there is an urgency to them that was missing before; his voice quivers as he efforts to rhyme his way back into his girl’s life. As the verse reaches its climax, Nahome’s anthemic, rock-infused production goes up another level, his guitar doing all the talking: low, driving chords interspersed with screaming melodic flecks burst through the track, generating an atmosphere fit for Glastonbury. Collard seizes this opportunity, delivering the hook and various adlib-like cries with gusto until the instrumentation provided by Nahome begins to fade.

Finally, we reach the project’s conclusion. Despite his best efforts, it seems as though Collard’s passionate ode on the previous track didn’t resonate; “Departure” begins on a rather sombre note. Nahome dials in another riff that John Frusciante would be proud of, while Collard’s piercing voice cut through the upper register once more, exhibiting the EP’s subtle transition from hip-hop to post-rock. “You fell in love with me for fun” he cries, venting his sorrows over the hypnotic melody. As the track continues, more flutters from Nahome’s guitar come through to compliment the initial riff, while the pain in Collard’s haunting vocal lines steadily intensifies. The rapper that we heard on “Walls Of Jericho” seems so far removed from the singer that we hear now; yet, maybe this is what we should expect: hip-hop’s archetypal attitude towards women perhaps doesn’t provide a wide enough platform for Collard’s true feelings to manifest. That is, if a hip-hop artist really wants to explore the emotional implications of a break-up, they must look beyond hip-hop.

Anyway, as the track winds down, we hear a muffled announcement from an airport departure lounge before the track fades out. It is evident, then, that “Departure” has a dual meaning. On the one hand, it represents the lovers’ emotional departure from each other. On the other, it represents Collard’s jet-setting lifestyle, and particularly, the failure of this lifestyle to properly integrate with his girl’s – a theme present throughout the EP. Another key motif, however, and a further reason for the lovers’ emotional departure, is the dichotomy between rapper and singer: Collard paints a vivid picture of his internal struggle, using his impressive vocal range to create contrasting emotional mouth-pieces and communicate his story with a striking degree of clarity.

So, in conclusion, Collard and Nahome cover a lot of ground for a four-track EP, embracing various genres and exploring themes which your average hip-hop artist may fear to tread. The consequence of this: a sonically beautiful and extremely self-aware project. If this doesn’t make a splash by the end of 2016, expect great things from these two next year.

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