With its twisted blend of beats, surreal poeticism, boisterous rap vocals, and abstracted acoustic instruments, Kill the Vultures’ new release, Carnelian, should prove to be the hip-hop duo’s most ambitious, bizarre, musical, and brilliant record to date. The 12-track album, the group's fourth, drops October 23 via Minneapolis music label Totally Gross National Product. It's their first full-length since 2009's Ecce Beast.
Carnelian explores the dark side of morality with its unpleasant and offbeat yet alluring and compelling aesthetics. While many hip-hop artists aim to produce creative yet danceable, crowd- and ego-pleasing records, Kill the Vultures intentionally and masterfully “misfire” in another direction.
Prior to Kill the Vultures, emcee Alexei Moon Casselle (Crescent Moon) and producer Stephen Lewis (Anatomy) collaborated in the group Oddjobs, a more customary hip-hop outfit that ultimately did not satisfy their creative needs. So the two began experimenting with more avant garde-type methods, which proved to be more fulfilling.
“Our group was created almost out of necessity,” Casselle tells City Pages. “It wasn’t this really strategic — ‘You know what would be a really good idea? Let’s start making really weird music that not a lot of people are into and challenging to listen to.’ But I think really we just needed an outlet where we could completely express ourselves freely, artistically, and just do what we wanted to do.”
Exploration and experimentation, including in different projects like Mixed Blood Majority and Roma Di Luna, were paramount in the getting Carnelian to its finalized product, which Casselle calls the culmination of what they’ve been trying to create over the past decade.
“I think this is the one that, despite how long it took, in hindsight it doesn’t matter because the finished product speaks for itself and we are finally at a place now where the artistic ability and just our patience ... everything has sort of aligned to the point where we can start making songs, we can start making records that we can have a vision for it and we can fulfill that vision.”
Carnelian is especially unusual in that it’s void of electronic soundscapes that are permeating today’s music, especially hip-hop. If there were no emcee, Carnelian would perhaps be better categorized as a jazz record when considering the instrumentation (i.e. flute, sax, cello, piano, gamelan, and others) and complexity of musical lines.
“I think the previous albums were anti-musical,” Lewis explains. “There was a real element of getting rid of all the shit where people are trying to show what they can do with music. To me the whole idea of melody for melody’s sake or anything like that is everything was just to serve the basic function of what the most core needs of the song were.
“And then in this album we sort of unlocked, or released ourselves from that constraint to try musical shit and let it happen and then sort of bring it back to its most primitive state but actually let it expand and see where it went.”
Lewis composed the tunes himself and then brought in professional musicians to record the parts. From there, he extracted the recordings and mixed them into beats.“So much pop music is about processing or just having a synth plugged in with a quarter-inch cable, which sounds great; there’s a million ways to do that really well,” Lewis says. “But something I hadn’t really considered in the past was the idea of trying to kind of celebrate the sound of the acoustic instrument, really get the tone of that particular piano and let it breathe and take its own space.”
Many of the tracks on Carnelian sound almost nothing like their initial blueprints. The album took a while to make due to the back-and-forth process of developing and reworking ideas, musically and lyrically.
“As soon as I hear the music that Steve gets me, it conjures something out of me,” Casselle says. “And so it’s as much about me as it is whatever the music inspires me to say.”
Having gone through a divorce to learning how to raise a child, Casselle said this record is reflective of the inner struggles he’s had, specifically over the last three years of his life. Simultaneously, the record is also an interpretation of the struggles of the world around him. He raps of injustice, hypocrisy, and evil with conviction, imagination, and confounded relatability.
“I try to offer up something that’s just my own take on things," Casselle says. "And it might not make sense to everyone cause it can seem abstract and very out there, but I think the world is abstract and out there and weird as fuck.”
Our Favorite Tracks:
“Smoke in the Temple”