CunninLynguists – Oneirology
[QN5 Music, 2011]
Jeff Pearson, March 21, 2011
Originally published by Life’s Sweet Breath
Listen: “Predormitum (Prologue)”
CunninLynguists’ music has always had a dream-like element to it. Whether it is Kno’s hazy, soul-influenced production, Deacon The Villain or Natti bouncing from couplets personifying states of mind to introspective reflections, the southern hip-hop group have always had B-Boy energy shrouded in a layer of psychedelia and mystery. Their career arc plays like their music slipped into a weed coma in the middle of a house party; Will Rap For Food and Southern Underground simply looking for good times and good footing before A Piece Of Strange and Dirty Acres explored the depths of human consciousness and the American South. With their fifth offering, Oneirology, CunninLynguists’ music slips further into REM sleep, eyes observing not only the darkest corners of the human psyche, but the accompanying alleys and afflicted streets of the physical realm.
Oneirology itself is the study of the process of dreaming. Rather than concerning ourselves with the analysis of what the dreams mean, we examine what brain functions occur to put the dreams into place. Judging from a combination of the sonic and lyrical quality of Oneirology, the music is coming from a place of despondency. On “Darkness (Dream On)”, Deacon muses, “I’m feeling faceless, heading for a bitter state/I’m trying to place but my heart ain’t even in the race/I’ve come far enough that turning back is time wasted/Imprisoned by fear, I don’t need no iron bracelets.” The record is characterized by the group seemingly longing for brighter days, doing everything they can to keep their heads above water, with Deacon even addressing the fact in “Predormitum (Prologue)”, “From the motions of the sea, to the color of the dark/This ocean of my dreams was more than cover for the sharks.”
The artwork for the album is the perfect visual representation for the content of Oneirology, a Lois Van Baarle painting of a serene, red-headed female figure asleep, tangled in her sheets, while the limbs of grotesque creatures pull at her from the abyss. It is a striking image, made more so by the fact that the trio seemingly has a vision plagued by the everyday strife of the realities which surround them. On “Murder (Act II)”, which features a blistering opening verse from Big K.R.I.T., Natti briefly assumes the role of murder itself, “I could use worship as a warship, Bible and sword/Turn men and women to minions over Heaven’s rewards/Promise Islamic bombers Heaven’s harem of whores/For taking out a couple of floors.” Lyrically, the group as a whole is firing on all cylinders on Oneirology, expertly blending personal accounts with broad examinations of society. The group has taken grounded and specific lyrical content and used the production to transplant the words into a dream-like state.
As far as the production goes, Kno further finds his voice within the world of hip-hop, taking heavy and thunderous percussion and darkly-colored samples from the world of soul, rock, and blues, giving each track the feel of a night full of swirling dreams and nightmares. Willie Eames provides guitar throughout the album, whisping around each track like a trail of smoke being swallowed by a room. Tracks like “Shattered Dreams” and “Enemies With Benefits” rattle the speakers with crisp basslines and booming percussion, while “Looking Back” and the lead single, “Stars Shine Brightest (In The Darkness Of Night),” are hook-driven standouts, characterized by spacey instrumentation, so as to stray from sounding too commercial.
The album is a journey, taking on a new face with each listen. It plays like the collective unconsciousness of the group, dreaming through the night, the flame of the symbiosis finally fading to “Embers”. On the closing track, Kno explains the road we took through their world. “All my images are morgues and moons, and every fork in the road moves through Freud and Jung/In the darkness, no orchard blooms, a state so dark, sparks from torches consumed/It’s like I live in a fortress of doom, in the forest where the blood pours with force from my wounds/My body aches with this lobotomy, a part of me shakes/Open my eyes and awake.” Their dreams certainly seem haunted, but all the better for their music.