The War of Art

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California-based rapper, producer, and DJ AWOL One (aka Tony Martin) can't be pinned down to a specific sound or vision, which is a good thing. His ninth album (including collaborations), The War of Art, is an almost defiantly underground statement, featuring a mix that's so muddy and lo-fi that it has to have been a deliberate artistic choice. For most of the album, the beats are similarly low-key, with the distorted faux-Middle Eastern whine of "The Drums" being the primary standout simply by virtue of its novelty. As a result, The War of Art stands or falls on its lyrical merits, and luckily, this is where AWOL shines. Though not blessed with a particularly distinctive style or easy flow, he is an intelligent lyricist who makes sharp political and cultural observations on tracks like "Casting Call" and "Evil Prevails." However, at the album's end, AWOL throws out some change-ups, first with an unexpected and bracing blast of Body Count-style hardcore punk/rap called "Bloody Shoes" that takes partial lyrical inspiration from Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" but sounds more like vintage Black Flag, followed by an unlisted bonus collaboration with Canadian alternative rapper Josh Martinez built on acoustic guitars and a woozily psychedelic-phased drum pattern. By moving these songs to album's end, like bonus tracks, he avoids the scattered sense that's bogged down some previous AWOL One records, plus he whets appetites for whatever stylistic detour he plans on taking next.

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