Experimental L.A. rap group Clipping.‘s latest LP is technically impressive, narratively consistent and sonically cohesive, but in terms of its title ingredients it leans a bit too far towards the misery without quite enough splendor.
It would be hard to find an album in 2016 more ambitious than Clipping.'s Splendor & Misery. It's a high concept project, but think of it less like the recent work of Kendrick Lamar and more like a sci-fi horror film (think Moon or Event Horizon) with heavy racial implications. The record tells the story of "the sole survivor of a slave uprising on an interstellar cargo ship, and the onboard computer that falls in love with him".
MC Daveed Diggs is as skilled as any rapper in the game, and he's become a hot commodity thanks to his award-winning turn in Hamilton. He's the star here, using the sparse instrumentals from Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson. He reels off some impressive bars, including a speedy flow on "The Breach" that echoes Andre 3000's recent turn on Frank Ocean's Blond in its precision.
Though they often draw comparisons to Death Grips, Clipping.'s music is more restrained and at times can feel more workmanlike. "All Black" stands out for its eeriness, but its title also encompasses much of the record's mindset, Splendor & Misery is unceasingly grim, to the point that it can make for a challenging listen even while admiring the skill that went into it.
Part of that has to do with the album's central premise. It doesn't allow for much celebration, but the group strikes a nice balance on "Air 'Em Out", which features more structured percussion and some gems from Diggs ("Come up off your smooth talk, playa this raspy / You stuck on Morse code, playa this ASCII / Your birthright make you scared to get nasty").
Frankly, a rap space opera shouldn't work this well, and it's a testament to the trio's vision that it does, even if Splendor & Misery can be a pretty turbulent voyage.