Click to hear: “Shot Design”
Metal on Metal is the new five-song EP from Portland hip hop turntablist/producer/musician Joshua Thelin, a.k.a. theLin. This short, polished collection is thoughtfully produced, thick with samples and live instrumentation. Thelin does most of the work, with the help of guitarist Jeff Barrell and three local MCs — Altruistic, Rent and Syn the Shaman, here billed as Syn Shamez — adding verses on three tracks.
Barrell’s playing on the opener, “The 3rd Larry,” sounds like a guitar store employee demonstrating an axe to a customer. It’s good, but a bit showy and out of place among the solid turntable work and expansive sampling. Thelin’s samples sound familiar, yet remain hard to place: fragments of jazz, hip hop, and some cut-up ’50s vocal pop run amok in “The 3rd Larry.” The track could have benefited from less guitar and the addition of a few verses by one of the MCs who appear later on the EP.
The electric and acoustic guitars on the second track, “Slow Down I Can’t Hear You,” likewise distract from the fast and alert verses traded by Altruistic and Rent. Altruistic constructs some pretty biting lines, like, “Selfish, selfish siren / shellfish in a bucket / embellish ’til that gut stick out into the fat of the land.” Rent’s contributions are a bit more subdued and paced. A simple, rhythmic soprano saxophone melody closes “Slow Down” over a heavy beat, resulting in one of the best moments on the EP. Those last 30 seconds are as good as any DJ Shadow track, but that’s the problem: it’s only 30 seconds.
“Pin Stripes” opens with 20 seconds of an old, crackling, radio-news underwriting tag. When finished, a repeated wave of Godfather-esque orchestration fades up with Syn Shamez singing along. “These string are evil as shit,” he remarks. The song progresses into darkness and proves to be one of the EP’s strongest tracks. Shamez’s voice is fierce like Atmosphere’s, with similarly cocky/witty lyrics: “’Cause I feel like a don when the beat comes on/ Always turn into a beast when I’m featured on / another CD / You need 3-D to see me / Uncaged / Your mom’s on my MySpace page.”
On “New Junkfood,” Barrell’s guitar complements the terse lines delivered by Altruistic and Rent, but between verses, it’s back to the soloing that mars the first two songs. Still, the vocals and production make “Junkfood” worth hearing.
Thelin shines as a producer on the last track, “Shot Design.” The song is light, even sunshiny. It opens with a campy, muffled, ’70s keyboard riff, eventually joined by a modest beat and a few different synthesizers weaving in and out of the mix. About halfway through, everything pauses for a split second, then explodes back into the groove with some ape-shit scratching. Sadly, it’s over well before the two-minute mark. But this track takes the cake.
Metal on Metal is good, if a bit frustrating. Thelin overindulges on the guitar and holds back the full beauty of the sonic gems he’s obviously capable of producing, like the end of “Slow Down I Can’t Hear You” and the entirety of “Shot Design.” If there’s a full-length in sight, we can only hope it has more of what’s hinted at here. Produce an album of material the caliber of “Shot Design” and I’ll be running to the record store to get it.
— Tyler Jackson