As you’d probably expect of something emanating from the Deadverse stable of artists, the first Mars Kumari album for the dälek-led label is dark, dense and claustrophobic. What sets it apart, however, from just any old collection of beats is that the artist is so wet behind the ears: the Davis, CA resident, with a host of collaborations and production gigs already lined up for the new year, has only been making music for 7 years and yet she emerges here with a sound so mature (and a set of influences so wide-ranging) it’s as though she was born for the role of re-establishing the label as the go-to place for hip-hop misfits and those unfulfilled by the mainstream beat scene.
Without dälek it’s arguable we’d never have experienced the thrilling 00’s burst of noisier souls on the hip-hop spectrum. Would the likes of Death Grips, clipping., Ho99o9 or JPEGMafia have made the impact they did without the industrial foundations dälek laid holding fast? Would Kanye West have had the nouse to release Yeezus? There were others, of course; dälek didn’t appear in a vacuum and are largely indifferent to the idea they set a trend rolling. Peers such as Techno Animal, Company Flow and New Kingdom undoubtedly played a role in breaking ground too, but do any of them still echo quite so clearly as the Newark, NJ duo? The simple fact is, if you say “noise rap” or any iteration on the theme, you’re likely gonna get “dälek” in reply.
Though dälek’s own records are largely released elsewhere, Deadverse houses a slew of like-minded acts similarly indebted to their mentors’ blend of searing shoegaze atmospheres, boom-bang beat work and politically conscious subject matter. Many are aided and abetted by dälek too, in particular MC Will Brooks: Oddateee’s breakthrough was recorded by and features him; D.L.MM.A‘s Champion was produced by him in its entirety; legacy shoegazer Jett Brando has benefitted likewise; and there are multiple offshoots and side-projects featuring Brooks in the line-up, including the extraordinary supergroup Deadverse Massive. Which is all to say that very little of what comes out of Deadverse does so without a bunch of Brooks’ input. Props, then, to young Kumari, whose talent comes so fully-formed as to mean Brooks was relegated to a mastering role here, with a slip of a credit for mixing the title track. Indeed, her sound – self-composed, produced, arranged and mixed – is so befitting of Deadverse you probably wouldn’t blink were you told Mars Kumari Type Beat was in fact a new dälek joint.
If there’s any criticism at all, then, it could perhaps be said Kumari wears her influences a little too proudly. Aside from dälek, she mentions Burial, Flying Lotus, The Caretaker, Mndsgn, Portishead and vaporwave artist Hallmark ’87 in her list of heroes, and all are audible throughout Mars Kumari Type Beat once you know that. From the drowned gramophone atmospherics of “funeral day” to the space-mall gleam of “arcade dimension” and the yearning lope of “i dreamt about this place,” it can become a bit of a spot-the-influence exercise at times, and yet Kumari blends and morphs her cues with such style she comes close to outstripping them. The title track, for example, spreads slowed-up OPN-style vocal sludge across splashy cloud rap beats, darkening the lot by sliding stone tomb lids into the obsidian depths below. It’s like 2010 viewed through the plague-sickened lens of today.
Kumari’s beats often seem desperate to escape the gloomscapes in which they find themselves. “never here,” for example, sees her go darker still, presenting an atmosphere so oppressive the clicks and crackles rolling through it become overwhelmed and give up, barely audible through the choking smog. The album does flow together wonderfully, keeping tracks brief and allowing a heady atmosphere to build and consume. “never here” poisons “phantom threshold” too, just as the ghostly opener “funeral day” imbues the first half of the record with its malfunctioning electronics and disembodied vocals. Starting as a beatless dark ambient wooze, “funeral day” actually drops the album’s standout boom-bap – a moment of relative clarity before it begins to skitter around the the walls and knock itself off-time in a claustrophobic panic.
Mars Kumari Type Beat becomes more about atmosphere and less about, well, beats, as it progresses. There are touches of Grouper in “twilight years,” which echoes and warps over ghostly hums; and “downpour” is a simple series of airy drones. It’s testament to Kumari’s voracity that she wrangles so many disparate styles and influences so well, even more so that she can combine them with such ease. As a beatmaker she undoubtedly has style and skill in abundance and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of her work turns up on the next dälek joint, but it is her way with atmosphere that impresses most here: from the outset it is clear she has something new to bring to the Deadverse catalogue, but something that still connects effortlessly with the label’s established aesthetic. If she can now lever herself away from her heroes just that tiny bit further, there really is something special emerging here.