Album Review: mailboxgraffiti(beatset) by YEWSTAR

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Hard-hitting drum loops, creative sample selection, and glitchy audio processing make Boston beat-maker YEWSTAR’s recent experimental instrumental album one you certainly do not want to miss. 

Released on Bandcamp earlier this year, mailboxgraffiti(beatset) is a captivating fusion of sporadic J-Dilla-esque hip-hop drum breaks and forward-thinking electronic production techniques. The beat tape sits just under forty minutes in length, with most tracks hovering around the one-to-two minute mark. Unlike what one might expect with a typical album release, YEWSTAR’s record is technically a single track—all 23 songs share the same audio file, subtly imploring one to listen to the project in its entirety. As the artist mentions in the release notes, the hard copy CD version of mailboxgraffiti​(​beatset) also contains “bonus drumbreaks at the end for the modern sampler.”

The first full-length track, “Flmncco,” which follows a brief, reverb-drenched intro, is an instant ear-grabber. As the name suggests, the beat revolves around a chopped-up sample of a flamenco guitar—a lively style of classical performance born out of Spain. The undulating repetition of the sampled guitar blends seamlessly with the head-bobbing beat. “STRTCH” is another standout track, weaving an incredibly busy drum groove with a processed sample that sounds like a space laser. The fast-paced and choppy kick drums help to distinguish this track from others that follow more conventional hip-hop grooves. Yet, like many of the beats, “STRTCH” is rife with stuttering effects and changes in pitch and equalization that help to make the irregular drums feel natural within the context of the project.

Vocal presence is, naturally, fairly limited on the instrumental record. Occasional samples include vocal elements, yet as soon as a song’s words become discernible, the sample is either modulated beyond recognition or departs from the listener’s headphones as swiftly as it was introduced. “PuFF rmx,” for instance, is an excellent example of how YEWSTAR’s use of vocal sampling functions more as an added sonic layer, rather than a melodic focus for the song. There are also a couple of recurring spoken vocal samples that appear throughout the record, some of which can be heard at the end of “Intro” or at the start of “INSiGHT.” Some of these tidbits of audio seem to be sampled from media. Others are so heavily processed—such as the last couple seconds of “BReeeZZyyy”—that it is not out of the question that it could be YEWSTAR’s own modulated voice chiming in throughout the project. Regardless, these similarly-processed samples help to provide a cohesive thread of connection from beat to beat.

Hip-hop instrumental albums are certainly nothing new, with masters such as J-Dilla, Madlib, and DJ Shadow heavily influencing the craft through their innovative grooves and sample selection. However, in a time when one no longer needs to shell out for expensive analog equipment or to dedicate hours rummaging through crates upon crates of vinyl records, there is a steadily growing number of music producers and beatmakers. Consequently, it can be difficult for producers to find the creative factor in their sound to set them apart from other artists, particularly in an art form that champions instrumental focus.

Yet, YEWSTAR’s ability to push creative boundaries through incorporation of electronic production techniques with head-bobbing, glitched-out drum loops helps to shape their distinct sound on mailboxgraffiti​(​beatset). Not to mention, the ability to pass seamlessly from beat to beat on the entire project without sonic elements growing stale or overdone is certainly an impressive feat.

To hear more from YEWSTAR, you can purchase the CD for mailboxgraffiti​(​beatset) on Bandcamp.

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