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Clams Casino 32 Levels Columbia

The first thing that strikes you about this major label debut from Clams Casino is the title. It’s peculiarly self-referential, a nod to a specific lyric on Lil B’s I’m God, the track that saw the New Jersey producer announce his arrival on the rap stage. Back then, that song – which sampled Imogen Heap’s Just for Now, a decidedly un-hip-hop ode to the stresses of a family Christmas – came over more like an online oddity than a track that would mark the start of a successful career.

Ever since, the man born Michael Volpe has been a key player in shaping that darkly atmospheric sound that has come to define big hitters like A$AP Rocky, Ferg and Vince Staples, and for the most part, he’s yet to truly receive the credit he deserves. That might change on the basis of 32 Levels or, more specifically, its A-side, which represents the ‘rap’ half of the record. Lil B pops up on four of these cuts, including on the murky menace of Be Somebody and the intimidating thump of Witness. It’s the near-telepathic bond between Volpe and B that defines this side of the album.

On the flipside, Volpe leaves hip-hop behind and gravitates much more towards poppier territory. Unlike his previous forays into it, on such cuts as The Weeknd’s The Fall and FKA twigs’ Hours, he doesn’t tap into the downbeat feel of his rap work. Accordingly, what we get is a mixed bag. Future Islands frontman Samuel Herring pops up on Ghost in a Kiss, but his predisposition for vocal dramatics jar, while Into the Fire’s lurch towards synthpop is a misstep. Still, there’s enough here to both cement Volpe’s position at the vanguard of gloom-driven rap, and suggest that he has enough ideas to branch out beyond it, too.