A transplant to Vermont from New York State, Blunder first made his mark locally with his Dorm Sessions project in 2013. Featuring him rapping over 15 instrumentals from recent and classic hip-hop albums, it was like one DJ host away from being a genuine mixtape. The Saint Michael's College student demonstrated clear talent and a natural flow, but the lyrics were mostly dorm-room braggadocio.
On his recently released EP, Reservations, he doesn't change the recipe much. But Blunder's songwriting has evolved considerably. Even with just seven songs, the EP makes a fully formed artistic statement. The vocal production, courtesy of engineer Kyle Woodworth, is crisp and detailed, and Blunder has mastered the art of layering ad-libs. Front to back, the sound quality is professional.
It also helps that the artist is surfing SoundCloud for innovative new producers instead of mining the predictable past, because the beat selection here forces him to reach farther. On this short headphone trip, Blunder experiments with dozens of approaches and mostly succeeds.
His best asset, however, is his voice, a flexible instrument with which Blunder has seemingly grown more comfortable. Even when his rhymes veer into cliché, he is confident and engaging. Most impressively, Blunder performs his own hooks for nearly every track — an increasing rarity in current hip-hop. That extra effort has a huge impact, making Reservations feel more like a proper debut than did his previous work.
The opening track, "1 Day," features an Apollo Brown instrumental and a rambling verse that illustrates Blunder's inner conflict. Here he moves from from angsty introspection to boasting that your girlfriend is "probably down on all fours" in his dorm room. It comes off like an awkward freestyle and makes a bizarre contrast to the lush, melancholy hook.
And herein lies a problem. Peppered throughout the EP, the rapper's boasts about "bitches" are cringe inducing, both because they're misogynist and because they're corny and juvenile. Miles from the sly humor of Snoop Dogg or the chilling hate of Eminem, this tone-deaf detour should have been edited out. It also casts the more cogent moments on Reservations in sharp relief. This is most evident on Blunder's collaboration with Boston artist Tim Nihan, "MC." With unintentional irony given the preceding wordplay, the earnest, conscious rap anthem admonishes other rappers to aim higher and "elevate" their audience. Fortunately, most of the songs on Reservations showcase Blunder's skills more than they half-heartedly attempt to hammer home a message.
The title track is the highlight of the album and an indication of what Blunder could accomplish in the future. The song is an effortlessly performed manifesto inspired by his recent battle with cancer. As it washes into a psychedelic final movement, "Reservations" evokes the idiosyncratic but meticulous feel of early Outkast, or Kendrick Lamar's recent work. When Blunder stops trying to appeal to his dorm buddies, he's a whole different artist. That contrast is clearly illustrated throughout this EP.
Reservations by Blunder can be streamed at soundcloud.com/blundermusic.