After selling some 60,000 records independently, and getting crowned with a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy), Swollen Members return with the follow-up to their well-received debut, Balance. Bad Dreams is the second chapter in Swollen Members legacy, expanding on their original idea, tightening up their song structure, and securing their place in the world of underground hip-hop.
As unofficial members of the Expansion Team family, Madchild and Prevail’s second album further defines them as the evil twins of Evidence and Rakaa-Iriscience. The influence of Dilated Peoples lingers throughout the album, especially when they are helping out (“Full Contact” w/ Evidence & Chali 2na, “RPM” w/ Iriscience & DJ Babu). But while employing the same team of beatmakers, such as Joey Chavez (“Ventilate”), Alchemist (“Bad Dreams”, “Dark Riders”), and even Evidence himself (“Camouflage”, “Total Package”), Swollen’s sound is still their own – the raw, dark soundtrack to your nightmares.
While the beats here aren’t as catchy as those found on The Platform, Expansion Team, or even Balance, Swollen MembersÂ’ overall evil is addicting after a few listens. Happy “daytime” beats like the kooky “RPM”, the jiggy-backpack “Take It Back”, and the violin-stabs of “Full Contact” are few and far in between, and will reel listeners in, but in the end, the rawer, darker beats become more exciting with each subsequent listen. The pathological “Killing Spree” or the pandemonium of “Anthrax Island”, combined with Madchild and Prevail’s aggressive lyrics, have enough edge, ideal for overworked, frustrated desk jockeys and anti-everything teen-angsters alike.
In the end, Swollen’s trademark sound isn’t that of Dilated’s, but instead built upon a staircase of dark pianos and walls of violins, propelled by heavy basslines. The sound executed uniquely throughout, whether through both of Alchemist tracks, such as the somber “Bad Dreams” and the suicidal “Dark Riders”, or taken to a new level with selections from in house producer, Rob The Viking on each “Poker Face” and “High Road”. While their sound may too dark for some, the group can be defined by the hook from “Deep End “: “Word to late night / Not that we hate light / Just feels right / That’s when tracks come out tight.” Word up.
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