Fans of hip-hop, from the most casual to the hardcore, have likely heard a Clams Casino beat. Since 2006, he’s produced tracks for everyone from members of the A$AP Mob to Mac Miller and even The Weeknd, but never took the time to release a solo project. That was, until Friday, when he dropped 32 Levels, an album that attempts to manipulate his signature dreamlike aesthetic into a mainstream, synth-heavy and anthemic experience.
As a producer, Clams Casino developed a signature sound that dominated his collaborations with other artists. But on 32 Levels, he takes significant risks, breaking away from his use of atmospheric and spacious beats toward a more drum-machine-heavy sound in an attempt to bring in new listeners with a fresh take.
This album can easily be divided in half, with the first half taking almost no risks whatsoever and the latter half indulging Clams’ impulses. Clams Casino wrote the book on cloud rap, and the first six beats on this LP are practically straight from it. That’s not an amazing feat, but it does pay homage to his consistency and niche he’s found as a producer. Even his abundant features are guests fans have already come to know and love — longtime collaborator Lil B graces three of the first six songs on 32 Levels.
Taken on their own, these six tracks could have built another solid EP for Clams Casino, who has three impressive multi-track releases in his Instrumentals series. These songs make up some of the most sonically colorful and intoxicating moments in Clams’ career, with “All Nite” capitalizing on his ability to pin down a mood and drive it home. Overall, this first-half experience is more than sufficient in proving Clams Casino’s talent not just as producer, but as a songwriter as well.
The second half, however, takes any consistency from the album’s first and tosses it aside in favor of a reckless attitude. There’s an immediate and noticeable shift from a sample-based hip-hop to blatant pop and R&B influences, so much so that the album practically changes its genre halfway through. Granted, not all experiments are failures. Sam Dew’s performance on “Thanks to You” easily matches those from Lil B on the album’s initial six songs, and “Into the Fire” is a surprisingly successful journey into much more synth-heavy sounds.
But of the latter six songs on the album, few will leave listeners wanting to come back for more. The collaboration with Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring struggles out of the gate and never improves — his gravelly and deep voice on top of a trap-influenced beat is one of the strangest music combinations since Ozzy Osbourne teamed up with Miss Piggy to cover “Born to be Wild.”
As a producer, Clams Casino will continue to stand as one of the best in the genre because of how addictive and impulsive his beats feel. As a solo artist, Clams still has a lot to figure out. 32 Levels isn’t a failure, but rather an initial movement toward independence — most of the album’s experiments aren’t incorporated well into his old style to make this a great and memorable album. However, there is certainly a lot of potential for the Clams Casino sound to expand and blend into something amazing. For now, though, fans of the producer will be left waiting for the transformation.
- Album: 32 Levels
- Tracks: 12
- Genre: Alternative Hip-Hop
- Rating: 6/10