Double EP Review: T Bird and the Breaks / Parking

A few weeks ago, I tried my first dual review – two semi-related EPs reviewed in one post! It was a resounding success (I suppose), so I’m going to try my hand at another one. Today, we’ll be looking at one hip-hop and one hip-hop-influenced release: Parking’s The Hydrant and T Bird and the Breaks’ Dancehall Freakin’.

T Bird and the Breaks are a well-known Austin chunk group. What is chunk, you might ask? It is a genre that, as far as I can tell, is practiced solely by T Bird and the Breaks. It describes their singular combination of funk, hip-hop and rock n’ roll. Understandably you may be skeptical about this descriptor, since there are plenty of other artists that have drawn from each of these sources before, but I assure you that T Bird has certainly perfected a distinctive sound that balances all these elements.

On Dancehall Freakin, released in March, they turn hard into the hip-hop side of their influences. Two tracks – “Just Gettin’ Started” and “Dancehall Freakin” – are quite heavily hip-hop oriented. And instead of sounding edgy or contemporary, they just come off like funk-minded Limp Bizkit tracks, or a fratty rap-rock band covering early 90’s Beastie Boys. There are good elements, but the overall package just sounds dated and awkward.

The other three songs, however, kick ass. Instead of being funk-infused hip-hop they are hip-hop infused funk, and that works quite nicely. A track like “B-B-Burn!” has attitude and swagger from T Bird over some dirty funk rhythms. “Message From The Breaks,” while directly referencing Kurtis Blow’s classic track, finds the middle ground between George Clinton and Afrika Bambaataa. “Hallelujah, Glory Be” references The Pointer Sisters and the Everly Brothers over a churning old-school soul rhythm section. It’s a killer pastiche of influences with an original, contemporary sound.

Just to keep us all on our toes, T Bird and the Breaks earlier this week released “Somebody Had a Drinking Problem Last Night,” an early 60’s doo-wop track as sung by Social Distortion. This is the joy of T Bird: it seems they will forever re-combine and play with their influences. They’ll keep exploring. Sometimes it will work (“Message From The Breaks”; “Somebody Had a Drinking Problem Last Night”) and sometimes it won’t (“Just Gettin Started”). But it always makes for a great live show.

The first thing I want to get out of the way about Parking’s new EP, The Hydrant is that Ibrahim’s lyrics don’t seem to have gotten any deeper, which was the main criticism I heard about their work in the past. If you were to read these lyrics on a sheet of paper, I imagine it would seem like a bunch of nonsense. But Ibrahim still excels at the sounds of words. On a track like “Doom” I can barely understand any of the words, but the way they fit together in Ibrahim’s delivery is beautiful. On “Fog Brain,” Ibrahim mentions the “boom bap” in terms of the beat but it may as well apply to his own delivery. It’s just ear candy.

Parking - 'Fog Brain'

And Nicky Luna continues to provide some serious beats. “Fix the Block” kicks off like a DJ Shadow jam and ends up like a chiller Araabmuzik. The tracks end up being the perfect complement to the frenetic delivery of Ibrahim. The instrumentation is mostly calm, giving Ibrahim the space to play around with his vocal delivery, but Nicky’s beats are still heavy to match the energy of his MC.

What’s most interesting about this album is the brevity of the tracks. All four tracks together clock in at just over six minutes. They’re like sketches of greater ideas to come, or a challenge to see how much can be packed in to such little space. Each of these songs could be drawn out and explored at greater length, but like the early punk and hardcore artists, Parking are more interested in giving you a blast of energy and a taste of possibility while leaving you wanting more.

– Carter