Words by jilkmusic
Horror as a cinematic genre is no stranger to the franchise treatment. Sequels are a plenty and the model persists right into 2020. Blumhouse has made a gigantic success by rewarding artistic freedom to restrictive budgets, and when a film makes a profit a sequel is immediately on the table. Of course the law of diminishing returns is inevitable, and rarely do sequels surpasses their originals. Having said that, there are plenty of examples of franchises finding value late on in their runs or even notable stand alone films that technically are sequels. Nightmare On Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors is really quite good. The Exorcist 3: Legion isn’t really anything to do with the first film but presents a strange, disturbing noir crime thriller that skirts some bonkers ideas and delivers arguably one of cinemas greatest jump scares.
All this is to say that horror sequels can be good. Sometimes they can be great.
Clipping released a reference heavy horror-core album in 2019 called ‘There Existed an Addiction to Blood.’. It was brilliant. Now almost exactly a year later they release ‘Visions of Bodies Being Burned’ – a reference heavy horror-core album. The artwork on the two releases is incredibly similar and the themes, styles, tricks and treats share a lot of DNA. It’s with an unexpected sense of relief then that I can report that ‘Visions…’ is not only equally as brilliant but stands alone as an incredible body of work. It is a great horror sequel; and its one of the years best albums.
I recently chatted with a musician friend for a podcast she was recording. We got onto how exciting it is when a pop artist so expertly incorporates experimentation into radio friendly songs. The insane chord change that introduces the chorus in Yellow Brick Road, most of Bowies best work, Frank Oceans hypnogogic warping of Stevie Wonder. This marriage of accessibility and experimentation also serves Clipping well. Their production is textured and industrial. It indulges in left field experimental electronics as well as drone, found sounds and more traditional hip-hop tropes. In any one track you might hear vicious bursts of white noise, the gorgeous dripping of metallic pin heads harking back to glitch and artists like alva noto, the deep rumbles of sub bass propping up John Carpenter-esq arpeggios, the mutating of samples into otherworldly groans and growls. You could remove the vocals from a clipping album and be left with a more than coherent electronica piece. That William Huston and Jonathan Snipes (the duo behind Clippings production) manage to mould these experimental techniques into gurn inducing head nodders is testament to their appreciation and understanding of the history of hip-hop production and also their willingness to push the genre into fertile and exciting new territories. In short they are capable of presenting challenging sonics in bite size, rap flavoured, fun-chunks.
Of course the duo are not alone and the flow of MC Daveed Diggs on ‘Visions…’ is strong enough that it often steals the show. When the production is this intense, that’s quite a feat. I read a scathing review of a previous clipping album that said Diggs can sound monotone and without charisma. While I can see how that incorrect opinion might be formed, you can’t have a rapper with this level of technical ability and control and deem their tone tedious. Multiple rhyme schemes weave in and out of bars that bounce around various time signatures and still, amongst the juggling syllables, deliver a coherent narrative. In fact what makes ‘Visions..’ so exciting is its near concept-album levels of dedication to narrative and horror cineliteracy. A notion helped in no small part by the various skits on ‘Visions..’
Clipping also know their hip-hop and the marriage of those two sets or lore produces some fascinating moments. The lead single ‘Say The Name’ loops a Geto Boys lyric (delivered by Diggs rather than sampled) with vivid illusions to Candyman. ‘Something Underneath’ finds space for an Outkast shout out in the middle of frantic descriptions of monstrous forms insidiously creeping up from the depths. Like Candyman (and much of the best horror) a lot of Diggs’ lyrics hint towards socio-political unrest and deeply emotional, human issues. Although never explicitly didactic, deeper listens expose a keen eye for subtly addressing the real-life horrors of 2020. On Enlacing Diggs explores a first person break down that speaks to anxiety, displacement and depression as much as it does to the murderous horrors of losing control. The pitched vocal loop taken from Infinite Body’s track of the same name really brings out the emotional resonance of Diggs delivery. There is often a human side to the horror on this album.
Its worth noting the guests that appear on ‘Visions..’. Ho99o9 delivers a devastatingly aggressive and distorted verse on Looking Like Meat. Gabba kicks dance around a dentist drill squeal while Ho99o9 sounds suitably unhinged and frantic. Cam and China bring a silky, and intimidatingly calm snarl to ’96 Neve Campbell. “This bitch boss”, indeed. Jeff Parker and Ted Byrnes provide a spiralling free jazz clatter-fest on Eaten Alive. All contributors are allowed to shine and yet assimilated into the thick atmosphere of ‘Visions…’ with reverential and tastefully subtle aplomb.
The sheer depth of ideas on ‘Visions..’ make return listens a joy, but more crucially, despite the obvious academic richness provided by all facets of the group, their work never forgets to be fun. It can feel like juxtaposition of ideas but so much of horror is fun. For me there is a healthy catharsis and willingness to reflect that sits alongside the joyous exploration of the darker elements of our inner ideas and is often indicative of surprisingly well adjusted, gentle human beings. The references, the technical flow, the exploratory and experimental production techniques are all underpinned by a willingness to make sure ‘Visions…’ is a brilliant rollercoaster ride of scares, samples, nostalgia and high-speed, rapid-fire sensory overload.
Music appreciation is subjective: hot take, I know. I say this not to highlight the potentially absurd nature of an individual reviewing music, or giving an album a numerical score (its 8 out 10 if you care). Rather I say it to highlight how perfect this (and the previous) clipping album is for me, personally. Halloween is the best. Its not overpoweringly pervasive and riddled with the pressures of consumerism like Christmas is. Its steeped in nostalgia and the golden decay of autumnal descent. Its also a great excuse to indulge in one of my other passions – horror cinema. Further to this is an adolescent and excitable love of hip-hop. I’ve always liked it but never got nerdy about it, until a few years back when a greater understanding of the history and poetry of ‘flow’ and a discovery of the multiple sub-genres that make up alternative hip-hop sent me on an exploratory journey that continues to this day. You can see how an experimental hip-hop album drenched in horror cinema lore and released in early October might fit perfectly into a rather uncanny hole in my heart.
The above might be a necessary list of prerequisites for enjoying ‘Visions…’. I feel however that the album brings something of its strengths to any listener. It might be working with elements that are recognizable in their composite forms but it creates something truly exciting and new. Whether you care about horror, rap, weird noises or not, there is a huge value in what Clipping have produced. They continue to be one of the most exciting groups in hip hop and I can’t wait for the next instalment of their franchise.