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  • Filed under: Review
  • 03/19/2013

Lockah Only Built 4 Neon Nites EP

It isn't fair to paint Scottish producer Lockah's productions strictly as trap. Just as likely to incorporate juke, bass, R&B, or the supersonic instrumental hip-hop of geographic neighbors like Hudson Mohawke or Rustie, Tom "Lockah" Banks' modest catalog often goes beyond much of the trendy genre's more stereotypical—and often cheesy—elements, even if it is still heavy on low-slung crunk beats and ravey synths. The same is true of his Only Built 4 Neon Nites EP.

After a brief intro teases out the EP's '80s Italo theme, lead track "Young Neon Countach" asserts Banks' skill at crafting epic synth melodies as well as his fondness for vintage electro and boogie. The strongest contender on the EP, it is a rollercoaster of fuzzy triplets, padded drum rolls, the chattering teeth of Southern hip-hop beats, and the plucky funk of slap-bass, all led through a series of build-ups and breakdowns by a powerful and poppy lead melodic line. It's this swirling of influences that has reviewers mashing up genres into hashtags like "progstep" and "drum & juke" as they attempt to sum up his synth-heavy and rhythmic work.

While the Frankensteining of these genres may be misguided, the sentiment is accurate. "Guards Red Carrera" sees a juke framework pushed into new musical territory as a manic footwork rhythm breakdances over the staccato punch of a wobbly 8-bit bassline, delicate stabs of digital strings, and the piercing brightness of yet another dominating refrain, one that glows with the neon din of the retro cityscapes from which he's drawn influence. In contrast, mellow EP closer "Platinum Blonde" serves as a ride-off-into-the-sunset sendoff, as scuzzed-up and beefy chords are offset by squeaky-clean piano counterparts and a syrupy R&B pace.

"Let the Cool Air Breeze" entices listeners in with the same warm promise of vintage drum-machine claps, buoyant toms, and more boogie synth melodies laid on top of one another. But the turn it takes into a stripped-down trap version of Adam Sandler's "The Longest Pee," complete with samples of water dribbling into a pool, is the type of sophomoric and cheeky production move that assures its disposability. Particularly in the wake of Baauer's "Harlem Shake," any artist attempting to maintain a sense of higher artistry within the trap scene should be actively seeking ways to separate his or her work from what could easily prove to be a short-lived fad. Banks may suffer slightly from his single-minded approach to the '80s motif on Only Built 4 Neon Nites and a taste misstep or two, but his ability to maintain a unique voice within a dangerously confining sound and remain creatively consistent across his efforts go a long way toward elevating him above the fray.

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