Whenever a producer releases an album, it presents me with mixed feelings. On one hand, it can be seen as an opportunity for the producer to put together a portfolio that represents years of experience. On the other hand, especially when guest features are involved, the end result can be underwhelming to the listener. This is usually because there’s always someone who doesn’t put in his/her best effort. However, when it comes to someone like Clams Casino, a full-length project makes complete sense. As someone who’s left a distinct mark on the cloud rap genre, Clams’ recognizably atmospheric style mostly comes together on his debut studio album, 32 Levels.
32 Levels is structured as such: the first half consists of hip-hop cuts while the second is dominated by pop. There is no shortage of talent to be found on the record and this is one of the reasons why the album succeeds. These guests mostly contribute solid performances and, even when they don’t, their style still complements the heavenly world of sound that Clams is presenting to us.
“Be Somebody” is made up of equal parts haunting textures and grimy percussion. Clams’ ability to change tones is highlighted on this track, as things can go from ghostly to schizophrenic in a matter of seconds. It’s certainly one of the harder tracks on the record. A$AP Rocky and Lil B, two emcees with a history of working with Clams, lend their flows nicely to the production, though I would say it’s not my favorite of Lil B’s many appearances on the record.
Vince Staples gives a star performance on “All Nite” – a tried and true jam. The minimalist, nature-laden beat sounds as if it was made specifically for Vince to lay some bars over. At just under three minutes, the song leaves a great impression without overstaying its welcome. Any fans of Summertime ’06 will feel right at home on this track, as this song is reminiscent of “Norf Norf” (one of Clams Casino’s three production credits on that record).
As someone who’s never been a fan of Lil B, I must admit that his multiple contributions impressed me. While he’s never wowed anyone as a lyricist, his personality really shines through on these tracks. “Witness,” a melodic banger with hints of southern hip-hop, moves along at a tempo that suits his delivery. Along with Clams Casino, he’s just having a good time and it works wonderfully. On the title track, which presents us with one of the druggiest, moodiest beats on the record, Lil B’s sluggish flow refuses to get lost in the atmosphere nor does it prevent the listener from getting lost in this hypnotic dreamscape.
When it comes to the pop half of the record, it’s never as compelling as its hip-hop companion. The biggest highlight, “Back To You,” is successful because Kelly Zutrau’s vocals suit the radio-friendly hook, while the song itself still maintains that classic Clams Casino aesthetic that prevents it from straying too far into the mainstream. Perhaps my biggest problem with the pop material is that things can sound a little too safe at times. In addition, it never comes together in a way that feels as cohesive as the first half. “Thanks To You” has a sporadic combination of synth textures, but Sam Dew’s vocal performance doesn’t quite rise above the groundwork that Clams Casino has created. “Ghost In A Kiss” is one of the more refreshingly unusual additions to the track listing, but its placement confuses me. “A Breath Away” is fairly catchy, but for a song that preaches about being a literal breath away from heaven, the track never takes off in a direction that sounds as heavenly as promised.
Despite the inconsistencies, 32 Levels is still very much an entertaining record for fans of Clams Casino’s work. There are enough highlights to justify the underwhelming cuts on the record. Even the tracks that didn’t impress me too much are certainly not bad, however. Clams Casino is at his best when he translates the grandiose into something fun and this can be found in spades here. For his next musical endeavor, I can only hope that Clams continues to explore this unique universe that he so kindly has allowed his fans to peek inside.