- Wool See, Ewe Gross
(Heaven Noise Recordings, digital, vinyl)
Wool See is a one-man band consisting of rapper/producer IAME, who recently settled in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. He made his name in the creative and competitive Portland, Ore., scene as a member of two distinguished hip-hop crews, Oldominion and Sandpeople. His latest release, Ewe Gross, marks his seventh LP.
The man has a serious résumé. Yet nobody is less impressed with it than Wool See himself. His earnest work ethic and humble demeanor have helped him find a home in Vermont's rap scene. His last project, Leaving/Left, was ostensibly a concept album about moving across the country. The 2017 album was no mere rap journal, though. The personal and the political blended seamlessly into a wide-ranging conversation about where our culture is headed.
In some ways, Ewe Gross is a more playful affair. As the lead track "Issa Bleat Tape Mostly" indicates, this LP is heavy on instrumentals. Whether God will forgive him for these sheep puns is beyond the scope of this review. I can, however, confirm that Ewe Gross is a thundering monument to Wool See's production skills.
The album is absolutely overflowing with ideas. Not only are the instrumentals a constantly shifting canvas, the producer tucks dozens of tantalizing interludes into every corner. As always, his ear is refined and his influences span genres, incorporating the vocabulary of EDM and indie rock in equal measure.
His pen game is still razor-sharp. Every time Wool See steps up to the mic, he does damage. His keen eye for observational detail spares nothing, least of all himself. "As for me, I'm not half of the man I'm trying to be," he raps on "Late Breaks." He continues, "A musician? / I barely stepped a few inches in front of me / guess I'm a wannabe."
The real achievement of Ewe Gross, however, is how often Wool See can step back from the mic and lets his beats do the talking. His staggering array of flavors never sounds forced — or, worse, merely eclectic.
In interviews, Wool See often refers to his recent work as "an experiment." This latest project makes it pretty clear that experiment was a success. He's carved out a broad lane for himself, veering from hypnotic electronica tracks ("Creefer") to smashing beats ("Babel Baboon") to the soaring highs and machine-gun rhymes of "Gamma Wraith." As he jokes on the outro to that track: "You see, I really do this ... whatever that means."
I'll take a stab at what that means: Wool See is a genre-devouring creative force at the top of his game. As a rapper, he's a veteran with nothing left to prove but much more to say. As a producer, though, you can't escape the impression that he's cracked some kind of code — a mad scientist, howling in triumph at midnight in his secret mountain lab. Wherever he goes from here, it will be essential listening.
Ewe Gross is available at woolsee.bandcamp.com.