Aamir Within All This Silence

"I chose from the start to write from the heart," raps Aamir (of Escape Artists) on "Sadness," the opening track to his solo debut album/mixtape. It's a perfect summation of the subject matter on Within All This Silence, which is dominated by themes of discontent and the struggle within hip-hop and life in general, disguised by cryptic symbolism, imagery and metaphors to decipher. Made to match, the music is melancholy throughout, giving the album a dark, depressing vibe, which means plenty of violins, acoustic guitars and plinking pianos. However, standing out from the pack are Xczircles' productions: "Peripheral Pulse," one of many featuring Escape Artists, combines downtempo drums, upright bass and brooding horns for something Sixtoo might have turned out in the late '90s. "Headstrong," a posse cut with West Coast underground legends Ellay Khule, Jizzm, Awol One and Riddlore, as well as Xczicles and Gel Roc, flows over a bubbling water beat, ghostly Theremin, possibly a didgeridoo and almost constant cuts from DJ Roach. The album also features a dope anti-government verse from Scarub on "The Quiet After The Storm," German raps from Materpfahl ("Headless Penguins"), a bunch of appearances from Xczircles and the rest of EA, as well an album-ending collaboration with ex-EA members Trex and Amnesia on "Mechanical Hearts." The Impressionists would also be worth mentioning amongst the many other guest appearances, if not for the poor recording of "Let's Break Free," which is surprising given the otherwise high quality of the album. While not meant as a party album, or even casual listening, Within All This Silence will most reward those willing to spend some time with their music. (No Threshold)