(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Tatlock is a Charlotte native and Burlington-based hip-hop artist who first appeared on the scene as one half of the Blind Continuum. In 2015, that minimalist duo released Soliloquist's Dilemma, pairing rap with guitar progressions. Since then, Tatlock has been cultivating the songs for Amoeba & Andromeda, his solo debut.
There is no boom and very little bap on the menu here. Producer Ben Mayock opted to forgo the system-pumping genre standards and instead delivers dynamics more akin to those of vintage vinyl. This important touch helps the album shine.
The first track is titled "Infinity x i³," which should clue you in to the metaphysical ruminations to come. After a slow build of burbling guitar swells and delay feedback, Tatlock introduces himself with a riff that encapsulates the themes of this short album: "I'm bigger than my bones, my nerves, my cells, microorganisms and dirt, but I guess I just say that to feel like I have worth."
As this mix of philosophical doubts and cosmos-spanning wonder gets unpacked over the next nine tracks, Tatlock's focus is almost relentless. There are occasional lapses into rapper-isms, but even those are spun into questions about scale, meaning and death. This is a smart, tightly composed piece of work.
His spoken-word approach to the mic hasn't changed much. And despite the more spacious production, there are a few awkward performances here. On "Knotted//Needless," especially, it sounds as if he's reciting something he wrote over a faster beat. The delivery is so stilted that it often overwhelms the lyrics.
"Matterless" is both the most experimental track and the hardest to sit through. Over little more than a sparse guitar arpeggio, Tatlock weaves a plea for enlightenment in constant eighth-note bursts. It doesn't quite cohere and never reaches farther.
When he's locked in, though, Tatlock's soft flow is persuasive. "Shiver" is a return to his acoustic roots with the Blind Continuum, delivering another spaced-out political diatribe over Aidan Powell's guitar. It sounds out of place on a project of such psychedelic aspirations, but it would kill in any coffee shop in America.
Tatlock promptly gets back to business with one of the highlight tracks, "Plastic Makes Perfect." It's a big, Def Jux-flavored stomper with an audible Aesop Rock influence — especially once his cadence pivots on the second verse. This reprises into "And Perfection Is Worthless," which is underwhelming by comparison but still heavily adorned with synth bombs and huge washes of stereophonic sound.
Overall, Amoeba & Andromeda is one of the most distinctive, confidently unique debuts in Vermont rap history. At the same time, the young rapper is still a product of his influences — it's hard to miss the fact that the songwriting and cadence of Minnesota freestyle legend Eyedea are huge inspirations. Tatlock has a lot of room to grow into himself, but he's also got the time — and inclination — to do just that.
Amoeba & Andromeda by Tatlock is available digitally at tatlockmusic.bandcamp.com. Physical copies of the CD, available at Tatlock shows and local record stores, come with a fold-out poster of the cover art by Dan Bandit — better known as GHOSTSHRIMP.