"Time taught me to see every second as heaven though they're perfectly disguised as hell," Eyedea raps in the middle of "Smile," and with the new Eyedea & Abilities record, By the Throat, Eyedea (born Michael Larsen) and DJ Abilities (Gregory Keltgen) are dedicated to making their own musical heaven. Never ones for the saccharine, Eyedea and Abilities have couched these stories of love, anger, and survival in dark guitars, fuzzy and distorted keys, and innovative turntablism. It is a zealous record from the battle-rapper intellectuals, embracing contradictions, playing with passion.
Much of this maturity has come with the five-year hiatus since the last Eyedea & Abilities record. The time spent with projects like free-jazz group Face Candy and punk band Carbon Carousel deepened Larsen's dedication to music and refined his delivery, stocking more melodic weapons in his arsenal of staccato breaks and acerbic observations. "Spin Cycle" especially combines these parts effectively, leading to the defiantly sung chorus: "You won't take this one from me." Guitar heavyweight Jeremy Ylvisaker (who worked with Larsen in Carbon Carousel) added live instrumentation to By the Throat, and from the opening pulse and grind of "Hay Fever," that live wire courses through the disc.
For his part, Keltgen spent several years mastering a new turntable, the Vestax Controller One. This turntable has buttons that allow the DJ to control the pitch and essentially play a spinning record like an organ. Pass that innovation through overdrive and wah-wah pedals, and you get monumental, layered breakdowns, from the breathless scratches in "Junk" to the hyper-speed glitches and vibrating highs of "This Story."
With By the Throat, Eyedea & Abilities claim their position as lynchpin between the battle-tested storytellers like Atmosphere and the current crop of up-and-coming innovators like Kristoff Krane (who worked with Larsen in Face Candy) and P.O.S. Old fans will relish the speed of the wordplay and turntable skills; new fans will appreciate the lyrical honesty and musical expansiveness. This is the rap record Thom Yorke would make if he were a young head. It's a unified scene, hip hop for the next generation.