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Album Review

Music Review Monday: Third Side of Tape

Travis Miller a.k.a. Shawn Kemp a.k.a. Lil Ugly Mane has always been a bit of an enigma. But his recent album is getting high marks.

November 2, 2015

Author's Note: What follows is a review for an album that was released this past April. The review itself was written some number of weeks before it's publication as an article. Travis Miller a.k.a. Shawn Kemp a.k.a. Lil Ugly Mane has always been a bit of an enigma. Crashing out into underground fame when he released his first album, Mistah Thug Isolation, Miller took the sort-of jazzy, booming sound of Memphis rap and put a weird little outsider twist on it. With his pitch-shifted vocals and varying production styles, Miller was kind of a weirdo. What we have here is the third in a series of what are essentially long beat-tapes. For the most part, these beat-tapes were mostly full of hip-hop instrumentals and demos of songs he had previously released. What was strange about them was the fact that each group of tracks were bunched together into three "sides". Also strange were the occasional weird, out-of-place experiments, like Miller noodling around on an old Yamaha keyboard, or the use of older found audio tapes of a young boy sort-of acting as a DJ, or just relating stories of his day-to-day life. Hell, there was even a black metal track on one of the first two tapes. Obviously, some of these tracks were made long before the adoption of the Ugly Mane moniker. All of this brings us to this Third Side of Tape, the longest, and most varied, of the series. It follows the same format as the previous two releases, with a small number of tracks being made up for in the sheer length of each track (the longest track here is almost exactly 26 minutes). While the pieces here are mostly hip-hop, there is something here for fans of almost any type of music. Even for people who like folk, there is one (albeit brief) acoustic piece with violin and guitar. There's even a sea shanty on here, for god's sake. There's house music, black metal, noise, punk, and probably more genre names than I can think of right now. This makes it sound as if this was thrown together haphazardly, or at least has very little structure. However, this is not the case, as the way the album plays out shows a real attention to detail. There was a lot of thought put into the order that this album plays out in. Travis Miller didn't just throw together a bunch of old tracks he made a bunch of years ago; He really put care into how this was presented. Of course, not all the choices made on this front work totally; there are a couple of cuts that at feel as if they go on a bit too long, but otherwise, the sequencing here is fantastic. The more beat-based pieces here are, for the most part, produced with a fairly crisp, clear sound. The other pieces of music are almost always produced with a lo-fi style, which has a rich, full sound to it, and adds a lot of character to the compositions here. The album really does sound fantastic. There really isn't even a single boring moment on this album. All the experimentation, combined with the way the album is presented, keeps you on the edge of your seat, so to speak, throughout the length of the album. I've seen people compare this to Soundtracks For The Blind. While this is far less intimidating, and more accessible than Soundtracks, I can definitely see where the comparison comes from, considering the sheer amount of musical styles represented here. Not to mention how well-represented each musical style is, similarly to Soundtracks. It's really hard to not give this a perfect 10; this may be my favorite album of 2015. However, as much as I hate to admit it, the album isn't perfect. The few issues it has lie in a couple of moments where the sequencing doesn't work percently, as well as some cuts that feel a little longer than they need to. This album is not a product of a single period of time. This is a complete musical portrait of Travis Miller. It showcases the compositional and musical genius of one of underground musics most mysterious figures, and each listen offers more and more to be discovered. The sneak peek of his final Ugly Mane release, Oblivion Access, not only fulfills its advertised purpose, it also works as a sort of summary for Third Side Of Tape, even though each snippet is from entirely new material. While Travis Miller may be done being Lil Ugly Mane, we can only hope that he continues to make music after this. This album is proof of his versatility and songwriting skill. It goes without saying that this is fantastic incentive to keep our eyes on Travis Miller and his future musical endeavors. My opinion may change over time. It will be exciting to see how this album stands as time passes. This is definitely Album of the Year material. For right now, though, I rate this album a 9/10. But let me tell you, it's a pretty high 9. - Connor Twohey

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