There’s a certain air of emotional ambivalence that runs all throughout Hiding in My Hands, the latest record from prolific Seattle beat music producer IG88. On one hand, the album smoothly glides along from song to song like you’re slowly backstroking through a sea of Calpico. Its compositions are melodic, its soundscapes cascading and textured, and while its songs don’t directly flow into each other, they’re uniform in their tranquility. But while its material is consistently easy on the ears, a lot of its instrumentation and composition has a surprisingly melancholic tone when zeroed in on and listened to more intimately. As its title may allude to, Hiding in My Hands isn’t an album that likes to give away how it’s really feeling.
Branden Clarke is one of the most active and standout producers in the STYLSS roster. Outside of his brief discography under the IG88 moniker, he’s perhaps most well-known for acting as the main producer for renowned Seattle R&B singer-songwriter Shaprece, as well as being the knob-twister behind the painfully overlooked downtempo/hip-hop project Triceracorn. Clarke is definitely among the most talented and versatile producers in Washington, despite not taking himself too seriously on previous endeavors. I can’t think of many other producers around these parts that would drop a 7-and-a-half minute beat-driven ambient piece with a title like “Fedora the Explorer.”
2013’s Breathing Suit was the last we’d heard from IG88, a pretty kempt and quiet atmospheric beat music album that seemed more interested in being a Mount Kimbie-like than it did being, say, a Flume-like. Its “kicks” were more like friendly thumps against your ears, while its accompanying percussion was equally as ear-massaging. Impeccably-produced as it was, it was hard not to feel like Breathing Suit was best listened to in the background, and it didn’t have a lot of jaw-droppers in its near-hour runtime, exceptions including the excellent “A Subtle Separation,” which was made great in part by Seattle singer Jenni Potts.
On Hiding in My Hands, though, you can definitely feel more of a punch coming through with the percussion. Not that IG88 is going full-on curb-stomping bangers or anything, but the kicks, snares, and claps definitely have more bite on this record. It’s most attributable to its noticeable cues taking from trap music, which can be found throughout a good majority of the LP. It’s a change I normally wouldn’t sit well with, given the omnipresence of trap-style production in today’s modern music landscape. However, its execution on Hiding in My Hands is too good and too seamless to deny.
A lot of the tracks on here follow pretty clear trap rhythms and grooves, but IG88 clearly wants to leave much more of an impression of you than being just another SoundCloud ambient trap producer. I often find an inherent boredom and lack of ambition with a lot of modern bedroom trap producers that just download a free trap sample pack off a website like TriSamples and then cheaply apply their findings to second-rate Burial- or Purity Ring-inspired instrumentals, but IG88 knows what he’s doing, and comes together with some damn good arrangements on Hiding in My Hands. Hiding in My Hands is a record that other bedroom beatmakers should be jealous of.
“Negative Space,” the second track on the record, is perhaps the best showcase of Clarke’s talents as a songwriter, producer, and arranger. The track is this six-minute string-kissed, bustling, and lavish piece of ambient trap, with a lot of percussive and instrumental subtleties that reveal themselves gradually with each listen through it. It’s paced and sequenced in such a way where you never know quite what Clarke is going to introduce or take away next. Its busy and shapeshifting rhythm definitely feels informed by IDM music, but its more percussion-driven moments never fail to retain their solid groove. The IDM influence carries over into other tracks, namely “Keep Me,” one of the most wintery and acoustic guitar-heavy tracks on here, which also features some of the sparsest and most unconventionally-structured drums on the LP. It almost sounds as if IG88 brought on some guest work from Doug Appling and his Emancipator Ensemble.
The vocal guests that show up on Hiding in My Hands add to the solaced tone of Clarke’s production quite well. “Wayside” features vocals from JPM, whose ethereal delivery sells the ear-tickling percussion and sensual synth melody. The outstanding quality of the Jenni Potts-featuring “Submerged” makes me wonder if every song ever made from here on out would be automatically awesome if Jenni had her hand in its creation. Her emotive and shy vocals are the perfect icing to top off the subdued and numbing beat, which feels incredibly influenced by alternative R&B. Side-chained kicks and microscopic metallic hi-hats color a mid-paced instrumental with a lot of breaks in groove, to accentuate the far-reaching world of atmospheric beauty IG88 wants to wrap you up in.
For as much as I love “Submerged,” I think “My lungs are melton crayon” is my favorite of the more vocal-driven tracks on this album; easily the track on Hiding in My Hands with the most pop appeal. Seattle singer Maiah Manser has the most upfront vocal presence on the LP, and lends this album a lot of alt-pop cred. With its slick, passionate vocals from Maiah, nice, sensual beat, and catchy, melodious composition, “My lungs are melton crayon” would’ve had the potential to be the album’s best shot at a pop song, if not for the creative and unpredictable detour the song takes around halfway through, incorporating all sorts of sporadic shifts in rhythm, and a very dreamy ambient outro.
A lot of my listening to Hiding in My Hands was done distraction-free with my eyes closed and headphones on, and in this context, the album’s despondence and introspection started to really sink in for me. As songs like “Wish U Well” melted into my ears, I started to see Clarke’s musical world for as teary-eyed as it is. I was reminded of long, sleepless nights I’d spend alone in my room listening to sad music, longing for the feeling of love and care from any source willing to offer it. The seven-minute outro track has a beautifully sad tone to it, the sort of mixed feeling you get when you’re having an amazing time with someone whose company you enjoy, but you know it’s the last experience of its kind you’ll ever have with that person.
Hiding in My Hands is, if nothing else, a versatile record. Most musicians will run the gamut of emotions across several different tracks on any given record – “the obligatory sad song,” “the ‘everything is going to be okay’ happy song,” “the ‘I’m not sure how to feel’ song,” etc. – but few musicians have the skill and the perception to be able to create such a potent set of songs whose impact can change dramatically depending on your mood and how intently you’re willing to listen. Depending on your mood, Hiding in My Hands could be either joyous, but somewhat breezy electronic music with a nice take on trap music, or some of the most comfortingly sad music you’ll have come across in a while. Shut out all distractions, grab your nicest speakers or pair of headphones, and put on IG88’s latest record. You may just come out a more enlightened person at the end of it all.
(Hiding in My Hands is available via a name-your-price pay model on STYLSS’ Bandcamp page. You can stream the track “Submerged via SoundCloud below.)