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Oh No & Chris Keys – Ashes

on October 17, 2012, 7:56am

“The fires continue to grow.” The first words spoken on Ashes aren’t from Oh No, Chris Keys, or any other collaborator, they’re from a news anchor in a found footage clip detailing a fire burning out of control. As the lead track goes on to discuss, Oh No and Keys see themselves as that very fire, engulfing the competition with rage on the mic and passion in their production. And while Ashes maintains a singular vision and sound throughout, there just isn’t enough of a spark from either artist to set the world ablaze.

Better known for his production skills than his vocals, it’s actually Oh No who lends his raps to the beats this time around, leaving room for youngster Chris Keys to toy on the MPC. Trained and conditioned in classical music and jazz theory, Keys’ inspirations run rampant on most tracks, pulling from various sources to create landscapes of strings, piano keys and basic time structures. Keys is so persistent in his vision of simplistic and soulful beats that from one end of the of the album to the other he nearly begins to plagiarize himself. The drum kick and clap on “Knockers” is nearly identical to that of “Strangers”, but it’s pulled off in such a way that it hardly matters. Continually interlaced with newsreel clips and dusty, unnamed voices, Ashes, if nothing else, works to tell a story through Keys’ sound.

Due in part to the myriad of collaborations and guest spots, however, that vision is all but ruined thanks to the schizophrenic nature of each lyricist’s own goals. Guilty Simpson and Montage One’s appearance on Ashes’ best track “Devastation” is a welcome addition after Oh No runs out of things to rhyme with “Liger”. It’s moments like this, when Oh No, who is unlimited in skill behind the scenes, stumbles over himself trying to keep a verse going that grind to an abrupt halt. On “Let’s Go”, the uptempo, guitar-tickling beat and confident sounding Oh No team up for an impressive output, but sadly instances like this one are few and far between. More often than not, Oh No falls totally flat as a lyricist, which is an absolute shame considering Keys’ production is actually worth a damn, or at least more than Oh No rhyming a certain derogatory term with itself four lines in a row.

What this all creates is an album that, while very particularly crafted, is completely lost in terms of what it’s trying to sell to the listener. Oh No raps of how game-changing these two artists are together, but aside from outright stating it, he does little to actually back it up. Keys’ vision of what minimal, timeless, and heartfelt production means mostly clashes with the excess and nonsense Oh No preaches. Ashes has its redeeming moments, but ultimately it’s a testament to what can go very wrong with collaborative albums.

Essential Tracks: “Devastation”

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