32 Levels will serve to introduce the producer to a much larger array of fans.
Clams Casino has carved himself out a solid niche producing hip-hop and R&B records that distinctly resemble gothic architecture. His instrumentals are cavernous and moody with rich textures and a looming, intimidating quality for the uninitiated. His style has been gobbled up by boundary-pushers like FKA Twigs, Lil B, and A$AP Rocky and he has churned out a trio of well-received mixtapes over the last five years.
32 Levels is the East Coast-based producer’s first major studio album and its starry guest list makes that abundantly clear. Rocky and the Based God show up to return the favor, as well as Vince Staples, Mikkey Ekko, Kelela and Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring. Those latter three artists are part of Clams’ stab at dark pop, which is certainly ambitious, but they don’t gel as naturally with his neo noir beats.
Lil B, who graces three tracks and the intro (he’s literally the first thing you hear on 32 Levels) is perhaps the biggest winner here. Instead of letting him free to use the beat as a guideline, Clam wisely locks him into the rhythm of his skittering drums. The Bay Area rapper is better for it and his bars on “Be Somebody” and “Witness” are solid, even if he does shout out Japan twice in four bars on the latter.
Rocky’s “Be Somebody” verse isn’t groundbreaking, but it does feature one killer couplet (“Say man, how it feel to be a made man?/ Shit, I be feeling like I’m God, like I made man”), as well as a heaping dose of the MC’s signature swagger. Vince Staples collaboration “All Nite” is a blast, proving that the chemistry the pair showed on “Norf Norf” was no fluke. Clams executes an excellent mid-track beat change, moving from bouncy, house-inspired handclaps to a slower, coarser sound built on detuned synths before ultimately switching back.
From there though, Clams veers into more uncharted territory with a handful of collaborations that don’t all fit together neatly. He has impressive non-rap chops, having put his spin on remixes for Wet, Florence and the Machine and Lana Del Rey, but working from a blank canvas yields more mixed results.
“Ghost in a Kiss,” the Herring collaboration, seems like a perfect match on paper. Herring recently shined on BadBadNotGood’s “Time Moves Slow,” a similarly somber song that showcased his deep range, but while that track came off sweet and nostalgic, “Ghost” is creepy and decidedly un-musical. Herring’s voice, typically powerful and emotive, sounds hamstrung by Clams’ lethargic production, rarely rising above a throaty croak and often incomprehensible. It’s a clear case of wasted potential and hopefully the duo work together again, because they are both capable of producing something stronger.
“Into the Fire” is the most mainstream thing on 32 Levels, but it works well thanks to the juxtaposition of Mikkey Ekko’s earnest vocals and a lead melody that pairs well with Clams’ textured, hazy synths. No stranger to the more ethereal boundaries of pop, Kelela proves to be a natural foil for Clams and “A Breath Away” works well. Her sweet, soaring vocals recasting his synths from ominous to angelic and the track is proof that Clams is certainly capable of transitioning to pop as long as he is working with surefooted artists.
The instrumentals “Blast” and “Skull” both serve more as short palate cleansers than full-fledged productions and after a trio of instrumental records it is understandable why Clams wanted to go in a different direction.
Ultimately, Clams’ forays away from hip-hop, while uneven, are rarely unpleasant. It isn’t nearly as misguided as AraabMuzik’s crack at spring break EDM on his latest solo LP. 32 Levels will serve to introduce the producer to a much larger array of fans and manages to showcase both what he does best—bleak, insomniac rap—while providing a blueprint for how he can continue to grow as an artist.