Brian Rake

Midnight & Lion by Charles Laney (Review) By Brian Rake I wasn’t familiar with Charles Laney when I woke up this morning. Now I am quite familiar with Mr. Laney and have a strong suspicion my life will never be the same.

One of the best compliments I can give this album is that it’s near impossible to categorize. In the first few tracks I was sure I was listening to an eccentric rap/hiphop/dance/industrial album but quickly began to peel back the layers and became fascinated by the engineered chaos and nuanced genre-bending at play. Midnight & Lion defies all attempts to pin it down from the very beginning as it deftly threads the needles of several genres at once.

The album opens with “Oma,” a high energy hip-hop track with an early promise “I’m-a bring the heat” and Laney certainly exceeds his promise. The track is straight fire. This is the perfect entryway to an absolutely bonkers album, unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Midnight & Lion’s subsequent tracks each introduce new instrumentation, sounds and general vibes, boasting a distinct personality with each song. “Potent Love Potion” offers a medley of crunchy synths layered with ethereal ambient backdrops; “Cool Girl” allows Laney to really showcase his talent as a rapper and vocalist over a banger of beat adjacent to something straight out of a Sega Genesis game; “That Work” offers some incredibly well-written humorous lyrics and by the 1:16 make you’ll be flooded with ecstasy as the keyboards kick in.

Laney’s passion for experimental music takes on an array of shapes: Sometimes it’s haunting, as on “Long Gone” where expertly edited vocals create an atmosphere of uncertainty cut with bliss. On “Dressed to Kill” you can feel the pulsating drums begin to syncopate with your own heartbeat. The ironically titled “I’ve Got Nothing Left” proves to be a false lead as one can feel Laney’s energy multiply exponentially as you move through the song.

Midnight & Lion has an introspective bent that distinguishes it from more cathartic pairings of rap and industrial music. While rappers as varied as Rico Nasty, Playboi Carti, Kanye West, and El-P have sought harsher sounds to unspool themselves and tap into spontaneity, Charles Laney’s embrace of chaos and rage is meditative. Many of the songs attempt to both articulate anger and harness it in the name of self acceptance—as well as more elusive feelings, like transcendence and euphoria.

“Rock & Roll” deviates from that euphoria and allows Laney some latitude to meander, featuring a drastic beat switch that throws the song into chaos. Albeit chaos, listeners may rest assured that it’s always a controlled chaos when it comes to Midnight & Lion, constantly headed towards a thrilling blanket of sound.

The cleverly titled “Rock & Roll (Part II)” boasts a slowed down spoken-word element to it that feels dreamlike, more than anything. There’s an essence of a death march to the song as the album paces towards its final tracks with a hint of anxiety. Immediately followed by the extremely catchy wake-up call of “Midnight In The Morning,” the contrast plays on the listener’s expectations with a craftsmanship only utilized by seasoned musicians.

As do the greatest storytellers of all time, Charles Laney knows exactly how to end the story of Midnight & Lion, and he does it with the exhilarating eight-and-a-half-minute “Lord of the Crowns.” It’s an inspired choice, nostalgic and suited perfectly to his strengths: It grants him the freedom to play with tone, to write personally or use his voice as texture, to treat the harsher raps and most delicate hooks as mad experiments gone wrong. Combining elements of the previous 12 tracks, the song serves as a perfect conclusion to one of the craziest and most creative albums I’ve heard in years.

Anchored by strong writing and musicianship, Midnight & Lion is a mansion of sweet beats and vocal textures. Husky whispers, slow-motion chirrups, reverb-laden echoes that flutter into nothingness. It’s the rare hip-hop album where the vocalist and beat feel like they’re nearly always working in lockstep, a triumph even more impressive considering how many there are. Coming in at just over 60-minutes, you’d be doing yourself a great disservice to miss out on Charles Laney’s brilliant Midnight & Lion.

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