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Album Review: Teece Luvv, 'Semantics'

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Teece Luvv, Semantics
  • Teece Luvv, Semantics

(Equal Eyes Records, digital download)

Teece Luvv is the latest incarnation of JCOE (John Carter of Earth), a rapper/singer/producer and founding member of Vermont hip-hop crew Maiden Voyage. It's not a side project — the JCOE moniker is permanently retired. That's fitting because, over the past year, the multitalented artist has evolved into something new and refreshingly weird.

Since the name change, he's been busy releasing a string of singles and two collaborative EPs. The Luvv sound has a lot of range: Sometimes it sounds like Ric Ocasek making demos; sometimes it sounds like Erykah Badu's collaborations with J Dilla. Always interesting, his growing catalog sounds like dispatches from a future in which genre boundaries have nearly ceased to exist.

Which brings us to Semantics, Luvv's instrumental album for new BTV label Equal Eyes Records. In many ways, the LP is like a remix of Loops 4 Coupes, an instrumental project from his JCOE days. That was a solid, laid-back set. Just the same, Semantics is a serious improvement.

The album's tonal consistency is key. Luvv has a refined ear for loops and, just as importantly, when to cut them off — those loops never linger too long here. The producer has carved out a distinctive sound, deceptively simple and cool as a glacier.

Impressively, the project is packed with beats that aspire to be album highlights, with no dead weight anywhere. After opener "802.1," not a single track marches past the three-minute mark. From Digable Planets-style jazz excursions ("Don't Wake Up") to sparkling R&B bangers ("I'd Never") to catchy lo-fi gems such as "Stage Right," it's quite a portfolio.

The real testament to Luvv's production sensibilities, though, is how well all those elements fit together. Semantics sounds more like an album than a rap producer's résumé. That's largely because the record is a triumph of track sequencing, as each beat complements and contrasts with the next.

All of these elements make for a perfect second release for Equal Eyes Records, founded by BTV producers ILLu and Rico James. Luvv is an ideal match, sharing both low-key sensibilities and a DIY ethos. (He also shares their love of dirty, dirty horn samples.)

Semantics could have been a more interesting project with the full Teece Luvv treatment we've come to expect. On the mic, he normally raps like a more sober Quasimoto, with a compelling, conversational flow. As a singer on other albums, he's playful and experimental, with a real sense for how to make the most of his limited range. None of that is on display here.

Yet as an instrumental set, the album delivers a cool, carefully cultivated ride. Wandering further from the conventions of hip-hop has only made Luvv a better beatsmith. This is head-nodding minimalism, propelled at every turn by the deft touches of an experienced producer. Fans of rap-free hip-hop are strongly encouraged to give Semantics a spin.

Semantics is available at equaleyesrecords.bandcamp.com.