Canada has a history of providing America with things that just never quite pan out: Canadian bacon (we call it ham), hockey (we call it figure skating with sticks), and the Montreal Expos (we tried pawning them off on our commonwealth Puerto Rico).
Add Brassmunk to that list, the funky, jazz-inspired Canadian version of Slum Village, consisting of emcees May One 9, S-Roc, and Clip and producer Agile behind the boards. Just the title of their debut full-length album alone, "Dark Sunrise," comes across almost as ironic and paradoxical as the group themselves though at times. Equipped with an uplifting sound and vibe but overly normal themes running rampant throughout, "Dark Sunrise" does showcase the unity and cohesiveness of Brassmunk, but unfortunately also dwells on the same shortcomings of other similar American groups.
"Imagine," the lead track on "Dark Sunrise," opens up to see the group at their best over a cool, crisp, and bouncy Agile creation where they proclaim, "Still blasting n----s, but we don't own guns!" The track also shows the members clear ability to display team-play over individuality, as May One 9, S-Roc, and Clip seamlessly toss lyrics back-and-forth amongst one another in an amazing portrayal of skill and control. Other tracks, such as the good-natured "Rise Up," the Western-sounding story of "El Dorado," or the live-sounding, microphone-passing "Live Ordeal," also point out the group's clear understanding of how to cooperate within a track to get a message across or relay an event or story.
The problem with Brassmunk's debut effort is not their presentation of the music, as their delightful deliveries and flawless exchanges from emcee-to-emcee will surely please even the most critical of ears. However, as seen on tracks like "Whistle While You Work," Brassmunk appears to be long on appearance but short on content, as the pervasive "money and hustling" themes overlap a group with more potential than just that. During other tracks, such as "Oh Superman" or "Stop, Look, Listen," the creativity and flair of Brassmunk is present, but listeners will struggle to find the messages within the songs. Brassmunk relies heavily, sometimes too heavily to a flaw, on presentation, which results in several records that seem to have them rhyming just for the sake of it.
The glaring savior of "Dark Sunrise" is Agile, the appropriately named producer, who twists and formulates his agile beat-selection to properly match the flow of his three fellow emcees. Even more interesting, his beats come across as remarkably familiar but refined, as tracks "Born In Stereo" and "Push Up" sound like uncanny candidates for circa-1997 back-and-forth Method Man and Redman beats. This may be the reason why his group adapts to them so well and is able to function as a unit better than other groups of similar stature. Regardless, those within the industry should not ignore Agile’s freshness and jazzy production.
"Dark Sunrise," the oxymoron of an album title, may essentially come to describe the Brassmunk rise from the ranks of the underground hip-hop scene. Their fresh sound and new appeal may fall victim to the darkness of mundane or otherwise absent topics. As a result, Brassmunk gets lumped into the pile of Canadian imports that have not adapted well into American culture.