Swollen Members - Black Magic   
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written by Raymond Hoh    
Okay, so I was thinking the other day, "What happened to S+M?".

The RockSteady-initiated crew were used to releasing an album once a year ever since "Fuel Injected" got them their first taste of mainstream success in Canada.

What followed for Swollen was an endless spree of campy, VideoFACT-funded music videos, but even worse, they capitalized on their newfound audience by trading in their dark hip-hop sound (found on their first two albums) for a "hip-pop" sound that depended mostly on the hooks of Moka Only.

The tolerance level reached its height on 2003's Heavy; once considered MuchMusic media darlings, now proclaimed too cheesy to even play lead single "Watch This", S+M acknowledged that they needed to take a step back from their attempts at cracking the ever-elusive United States market. And so, the Members that were Swollen went into exile and I wondered why I haven't seen a Wendy Morgan music video on my TV for the past three years.

Fast-forward to now, Swollen passively declares that "Heavy" never existed (check out... I mean see what is left out from their website) and the official word from the press kits is S+M have returned to the glory of 1999's Balance and 2001's Bad Dreams with their latest offering, Black Magic.

So the million-dollar question is (well actually I don't even have to ask the question as at the end of "Prisoner of Doom" in a vignette, we hear a person say):

"Is it about the art or the money?"

The answer to that question (to this writer anyway) is "partially" on both accounts.

S+M are still looking for success south of the 49th parallel, as they just signed a US distribution deal with TVT Records (think Lil Jon). As a result, there are still the introductory hip-pop tracks that Canadians will recognize on the record such as "Pressure" -- which sounds like "Bring It Home" Pt.2 -- and "Grind", a "Breathe" soundalike instead replace Nelly Furtado for Moka Only.

However, there are signs of a return to former glory. Classic West Coast sounds are sprinkled throughout IBlack Magic /Iwith guest appearances from Bad Dreams collaborators DJ Babu and DJ Revolution to past contributors The Alchemist and DJ Kemo. Take a listen to the flute-infused "Swamp Water" or the funky guitar-laced "Too Hot" for evidence. Speaking of evidence, Evidence (of Dilated Peoples) contributes four beats including the already mentioned "Swamp Water" and lead single "Put Me On" featuring an infectious and hypnotic hook by Everlast atop a laid-back piano and guitar combination. In-house producer, Rob The Viking shows a more, mature sound on such tracks as "Heart" -- a track that samples Ketty Lester's "Love Letters" followed with a predominant string synth -- and "Prisoner of Doom", a multi-faceted track complete with pianos, harpsichord, cellos and violins.

The album ends with "Brothers", produced by Double Dragon, which takes you on a trip through the trials and tribulations down S+M memory lane, all the while channeling a Curtis Mayfield vibe.

Despite the fact that the Members truly wanted to please both old school S+M marks and fans that jumped on board after Bad Dreams, at 68 minutes -- Black Magic feels as though it’s missing that extra voodoo to keep listeners fully enthralled. To be honest, I was more interested in listening to the vignettes and interludes than some of the latter tracks. Still though, IBlack Magic /Iis a step in the right direction towards the reclamation of S+M.

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